Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Lake O

We are under way westbound across Lake Okeechobee, surrounded by "the real Florida" ™. The lake is the calmest we've ever seen on a crossing. From here we are making a leisurely way to the west coast, and north to Tampa Bay.

Friday morning we ran ashore briefly in West Palm for a breakfast sandwich from the bagel joint before weighing anchor to continue our northbound trek. As we approached the commercial port of Palm Beach, a swoopy expensive yacht emerged from the port, a security zone normally forbidden to pleasure craft. That can mean only one thing, and as we passed the port we could see the deck cranes working to offload the next yacht from the deck of a large freighter.

It's pretty much impossible for us to time the opening of the Parker Bridge in North Palm Beach when coming from the Flagler Memorial Bridge in West Palm, and so we ended up dropping a lunch hook for 15 minutes at the north end of the lake. The gauntlet of timed bridges was behind us after PGA boulevard, at least until the very end of the cruise.

This time, armed with better information, we made it through the tricky shoals of Jupiter Inlet without any problems, although a downeast was anchored right in the deepest part of the channel immediately north of the turn, and he may have had to change his shorts after I passed him just a few feet away. He had passed us earlier in the day, throwing a huge wake, so I did not feel bad at all.

Offloading yachts in Palm Beach. Most likely new deliveries, but might be some trans-shipped.

A wicked thunderstorm passed over us just as we passed through Hobe Sound, bad enough that we had to turn the fog horn on due to low visibility.  Considering we were struck by lightning in nearly this exact location a couple of years ago, I had a little PTSD until we emerged from the storm.

Steaming up the St. Lucie I had to slow considerably to time the Old Roosevelt Bridge, where we made the last opening, at 4pm, before the afternoon lockdown. We had the hook down just a few minutes later in a familiar spot in the lee of Arbeau Point (map). After cocktails we splashed the tender and headed ashore at Shepard Park in search of dinner.

We were taken aback by how busy Stuart is. We knew it would be moderately busy on a pleasant Friday evening, but the first couple of places we checked had no outside tables left just a few minutes after 5. We walked into old standby The Gafford, whose outside tables were mostly empty, right at 5:30, and they told us all the tables were reserved. Some of those reservations were for 6:30; we promised to be done in less than an hour and they agreed to seat us. The server was happy to get another turnover.

We bashed our way home from dinner in heavy winds to find the boat swinging directly on its anchor chain. The last time this happened, the chain hook had disintegrated, but this time the snubber itself had parted. We hooked an old line onto the chain as a temporary snubber until I could deal with it in the daylight. It was wild and wooly all night, and that line was mostly chafed through by the morning. The dangling part of the broken snubber had also worn through the paint on the bow down to bare metal.

Our tender Flux at the park dock, behind Lily.


Saturday morning we pulled the tender around to the bow and I installed our emergency backup snubber, an old one we had previously retired. That should hold us until we can source a replacement. In the afternoon I made a pilgrimage to Publix, the last nice grocery we'll see until the west coast, to replenish the larder. I also walked around a bit; lots of places have gone under.  On my way home I passed the schooner Lily at the park dock boarding a load of tourists. In the evening we returned ashore for dinner at Spritz, where this time I had made a reservation.

Winds were a bit lower on Sunday, but still 15 knots on the beam as we proceeded through some very skinny water up the St. Lucie River. The tide swing here is just three quarters of a foot, and we waited until we had at least a half foot of help. We made it all the way to the lock without brushing the bottom.

Years ago we resolved never to let anyone else give us directions when tying up. We don't let dock hands take lines unless we have physically handed them across (seldom), and we always secure a center breast line first, before any other lines. But coming into the St. Lucie Lock we let our guard down; the lockmaster wanted us on the windward wall, and wanted us to take a stern line first, and we foolishly agreed.

Of course, once I had the stern on, the wind started pushing the bow away from the wall and I had no way to recover it. I had to have Louise quickly let go the stern, but it jammed in the cleat under the pressure. In desperation I tried to use what was left of the bow thruster to check the swing, but it just screamed in anguish. We ultimately got the stern off and I had to spend a few minutes repositioning. What the lockmaster got out of all this is that we were newbies who don't know how to drive or lock; in fact, it was our 118th lock (heretofore without issue) and our fourth time in this exact lock. We insisted he let us get a center on first before I left the helm to tend a line.

I was ready to read him the Riot Act by the time we were locking up, but it is never a good idea to upset lockmasters. The very next thing I needed to do was ask permission to anchor in the basin just upstream of the lock. We dropped our hook in a familiar spot (map), immediately across from the Corps of Engineers campground, complete with low-cost docks (too small for us). On this occasion the docks were empty all night, the first time we've ever seen them unused.

Corps of Engineers docks empty. We've stayed in the campground in Odyssey.

Louise wrapped up a quilt she was finishing and cleared off the guest berth, and after tipping the mattress onto the sole I descended into the thruster bilge to remove the motor and the drive coupling. I also cracked both bolts the hold the drive leg in, and pulled each out separately to inspect for any water ingress. I put them both back in just snug. The bolts as well as the coupler all came loose with no issues; the first time we did this we had to drill the set-screw out of the coupler and tap it for a new one.

Yesterday morning the yard called first thing to say they were ready, even before their official start time, and we weighed anchor before 7:30 and proceeded the mile to their basin. We pulled right into the lift, and they hauled us out with us still aboard, preferring us to disembark by ladder rather than to try to get off the boat in the lift slip.

They pulled the boat right over to the wash rack for a pressure wash; the hull looked pretty good for 15 months since being painted. The shop guys got started on the drive leg right in the wash rack, and another got to work touching up the damaged paint from the snubber episode. With a short haul, we had to settle for zinc spray on the drive leg rather than a full antifouling treatment, but that should carry us to our next haulout. We're trying not to spend any discretionary time in boatyards until we are vaccinated; the fact that neither the workers nor the office personnel in this yard were masked confirms our decision.

The guys had the new drive leg prepped and in place in short order, and I again descended into the bilge to insert and tighten the bolts. We've done this enough times now to know that the bolts that are supplied with the leg are 5mm too short, and I had correct-length items shipped to the yard from McMaster-Carr. They had us back in the water by 2pm, freeing up their lift for its other tasks. We would have gotten out of the yard at just under a boat unit for the haul, wash, labor, and shop supplies, but we opted to then spend the night at their dock (map), which pushed us just over.

Vector in the wash area at River Forest.

That let Louise run six loads of laundry. Yard power was just 208 volts, so the dryer took eleven hours to dry them all. Between the dryer, the air conditioning, charging the batteries, and taking on some 700+ gallons of water, it was not a bad deal. We wanted a pumpout, too, but their sewer was broken, so we'll be looking for a pumpout when we reach the coast.

This morning we got an early start out of the yard and locked through at Port Mayaca just after lunch. As we came out of the lock on the west side, our friends Julie and Glen on Star Dust were approaching the lock eastbound. We just missed meeting up with them at Roland Martin's, where they were docked last night. They have a schedule and cousins aboard, or else I'm sure we could have managed a meetup somewhere along the waterway for at least coffee if not a meal. I'm sure we'll run into them again somewhere on the east coast.

Update: We are anchored on Lake Okeechobee, just north of Route 1 on the west side of the lake (map). The bottom is rocky here so it took us a couple of tries to get set. The lake has never been calm enough on any of our previous crossings for us to just anchor in the lake; the last time through, we tied up to the dolphins in the rim canal at Clewiston. This was easier by far.

I had to stop typing mid-lake when Louise, sitting behind me and working on our 2020 taxes, handed me a 1099-R from some retirement plan that I did not recognize at all. A taxable retirement distribution that we did not request was throwing her for a loop; the amount was less than $32 but it will cost us far more for our tax preparer to file the relevant forms. Neither of us could find a corresponding deposit to any account.

Those who know me well or have followed me for a while know that I am a computer engineer by training, and my career was spent in telecommunications, computers, and networking. Many also know that I have been a volunteer for the American Red Cross, where I worked mostly in those same disciplines. What fewer know is that I've had a few side jobs over the years, and one of those was as an instructor in the California state motorcycle safety program administered by the California Highway Patrol (neither Ponch nor John were involved).

This chair was on sale in the yard office for just 1.2 Boat Units. I had to pass; we just don't have the room.

Instructors were trained by the state, using curricula supplied by the Motorcycle Safety Foundation, but the actual safety program was conducted at private or public facilities around the state, including on military bases. At one point I taught a few advanced classes at a small college in Gilroy, California. In order to work on the campus I signed employee paperwork and got a paycheck from the college.

Apparently, and unbeknownst to me, that enrolled me in some kind of employee retirement plan. I moved away from California and the address they had on file back in 2004, and I've had four different addresses in three states since then. The pittance that was in that account sat there for nearly two decades until the administrator, unable to mail anything to me, disbursed the funds into "unclaimed property." I'm not clear on how they knew to send it to unclaimed property in Florida, as opposed to California, but that's where it ended up.

I've now filed a claim to get my 32 bucks back, which still won't cover what it will cost to file the form and pay the tax. But that sent Louise on an unclaimed property hunting spree, and we've learned that I also have a c-note in Washington (refund from Princess Cruises) and one in South Dakota (refund of insurance premium overpayment). She kept going and learned that numerous family members and friends have unclaimed funds in various states.

I expect we'll have a nice sunset on the lake, and a lovely dinner aboard, and in the morning we'll head into the rim canal at Clewiston and then north toward Moore Haven. In a couple of days we should be in Fort Myers, and a few days later, St. Pete.

Thursday, February 18, 2021

Departing Broward

As I begin typing we are under way northbound in the ICW, bound for West Palm Beach from Fort Lauderdale. We always prefer to do this run outside, but the weather is uncooperative, and we are on a schedule, with a haul-out appointment for Monday. Instead we've been putting along mostly well under cruise speed, timing the numerous bridges on this route.

Shortly after my last post, we arrived at Port Everglades on an incoming tide, squeaked under the Las Olas bridge by lowering our antennas, and made the 4pm opening at Sunrise Boulevard. A few minutes later we had the anchor down in Sunrise Bay (map), just north of the yacht club and across the ICW from a state park.

Vector in Sunrise Bay, as seen from Hugh Taylor Birch State Park.

This is a new anchorage for us. More convenient anchorages in Fort Lauderdale are always full, ever since the state closed down our preferred spot on the Middle River, and it was no surprise that the tiny anchorage north of Las Olas was again full when we passed it. While Sunrise Bay is certainly less convenient, adding a full ten minutes to any tender ride, often through heavy chop, it's actually a very nice spot, calm and protected, with room for several boats.

We spent nearly a week in this spot, mostly with anywhere from two to four sailing cats; at one point we started calling it the catamaran ghetto. From here it was a 20-minute dinghy ride, a little over two miles, to the dinghy dock at English Park, just a half mile away as the crow flies. The entire distance is a no-wake zone, with the exception of about a quarter mile where we could plane, but only on weekdays. This is ostensibly to protect the manatees, who have calendars and are only a problem on weekends and holidays.

Once at English Park, it's a short walk to the Amazon locker, a gas station (for dinghy fuel), a nice Publix grocery store, and the Galleria Mall, where we ate one night on the patio at the Capital Grille. We also went to one of our old standbys from when we used to anchor in the Middle River, Serafina, right on the river, which is one of the best Italian restaurants in all of Fort Lauderdale.

A cruise ship rides at anchor off Fort Lauderdale, a sight I am still not used to.

The scuba shop is about a mile further than the park, and one evening we brought the tanks up, dropped them off for hydro testing, and walked a couple of blocks to Anthony's Coal Fired Pizza, another old favorite of ours. And, of course, one evening we tendered all the way down to Coconuts, which seldom disappoints.

Much closer than English Park is Hugh Taylor Birch State Park, which has a nice dock immediately across the ICW from the anchorage. It's not really suitable for dining, though, because the park closes at sunset or a bit earlier, and there are really no options an easy walk from the dock. It was, however, a great place to land the e-bike to run some other errands. Park entry for a bicyclist is just $2, and I was able to purchase that on-line and show the email receipt to the ranger as needed.

Flux locked up for the day at our secret dinghy tie-up in Hollywood.

Among the items that arrived at the Amazon locker were the electrolytic capacitors to repair the satellite dish, and I dug into that project straight away. My repair was partly successful: the dish no longer trips the breaker, and it boots up and moves its elevation motor. The azimuth motor is not energizing, however, and the blown cap was in the azimuth motor circuit. I'm now trying to determine if it's a bad motor, or if some other part of the circuit board is bad. I had to set the project aside before I could nail that down.

In the middle of our stay, we weighed anchor and cruised down to the Las Olas marina, a city facility, to take on water. I had called ahead of time to ask permission, but when we arrived, an employee came out and cranked at us about it. He said he would give us 15 minutes, then disappeared for a half hour. Apparently back at the office he ran into the person who had given us permission. We took on enough water to do a load of laundry and cover us for another week or so.

As it happens, the other project I tackled in that anchorage was the watermaker, where I discovered that a prematurely obstructed pre-filter was, in large part, behind the last remaining vacuum leaks. After finally getting it working at full production, we made a few dozen gallons before shutting it down; the water in this anchorage is not ideal and would just lead to more plugged filters in short order.

I generally don't snap beach photos, but as we sat chatting on Hollywood Beach, a wedding happened just a few yards from us.

On Friday we weighed anchor for the two hour cruise south to Hollywood, where our nieces and their mom had booked a hotel room for the weekend. We arrived at South Lake to find our preferred spot occupied, so we continued a bit further west along the "slot." There's a charted 6' hump in the slot, which has apparently been growing, and we hit it at a below-zero low tide. Had we had any tide at all we might have gone over it to better water further west, but after backing off with full astern power, we settled instead for the very eastern end of the slot, just outside the no-wake zone (map). Fortunately, the wakes were not too bad over the holiday weekend.

We had a great time over the weekend. We started out with a busman's holiday, taking the Water Taxi back up to Fort Lauderdale and around part of the loop on Saturday, stopping off to stroll downtown and have cocktails on the river. We finished the evening with a light meal at their hotel's beach bar.

The town of Pompano Beach has painted a colorful aquatic mural on the south face of the Atlantic Boulevard bridge since we last passed it.

They had a full schedule for the weekend, with a walking tour of Miami's Little Havana on Sunday and an airboat tour of the Everglades on Monday. We're still not comfortable riding in cars, even with friends who have COVID immunity, so we opted out of both, but instead got together at their hotel patio in the mid-afternoons. Monday evening we had a nice final dinner on the deck at GG's Waterfront, overlooking the ICW, before saying our goodbyes. It was great seeing them and catching up.

They stayed at the Marriott on the beach, which is well north of where we tie up the tender, and further north than we normally walk. It's a little less frenetic at that end of the beach, and the hotel had a nice bar right on the Broadwalk. On the one evening that the walk was a bit too far, we took the free Circuit service, which uses GEM cars. They've put plastic dividers in between each pair of seats on the six-seat electric carts, and between that and the large windows all the way open we felt safe even with a shared ride.

They flew back to California on Tuesday morning, and I took advantage of a brief break in the day's seeming endless rain to race down to the Walmart in Hallandale Beach to reprovision. Once that was done, we weighed anchor and returned to our comfy spot at the Sunrise anchorage (map). This time there was a mix of cats and monohull sailboats in residence when we arrived.

I'm never sure if this is a drawbridge, or Rapunzel's tower.

Yesterday I tendered back to the scuba shop to pick up our cylinders and regulators in the morning, and in the afternoon I again launched the e-bike at the state park dock for a 12-mile round trip down to the watermaker dealer for a couple of parts. I rode through a few of our favorite neighborhoods just to see what's changed, and made a quick stop at West Marine on my way back. We ended the day and our stay in Fort Lauderdale with a final trip to Coconuts.

Both Hollywood Beach and Fort Lauderdale were far busier on this visit than they had been just five weeks earlier on our southbound journey. In part that was the holiday weekend and the start of spring break season (if that even exists now), and in part it's the weather, which is considerably warmer now. With apologies to our friends who are shivering elsewhere in the country, it's been in the 80s since we arrived in Fort Lauderdale from Key West (where is was quite a bit cooler), and other than one rain day, we've had gorgeous outdoor weather the whole time.

Since our last visit to West Palm, this mural is being updated with African-American portraits.

Update: We are anchored in our usual spot in Palm Beach (map). We dropped the hook just before cocktail hour, then headed ashore to pick up a package at the Amazon locker in the Rosemary Square shopping complex, where we also stopped for dinner at Il Bellagio. We walked back by way of Clematis Street, which, unlike Fort Lauderdale, was actually a good deal quieter than on our last stop. There is some sort of live music at the band shell, which we can hear from the boat a half mile away.

I've made an appointment to be hauled out at River Forest boatyard in Stuart, just upriver of the St. Lucie lock, on Monday morning to replace the bow thruster drive leg. It's a full day from here to Stuart, and another few hours to the anchorage just upriver of the lock, where we'd like to be on Sunday evening. If all goes well we will be back in the water Monday afternoon, and headed toward Lake Okeechobee on Tuesday.

Saturday, February 6, 2021

Key West Wrap

We are underway northbound in the Strait of Florida, bound for Fort Lauderdale after a little over three weeks in Key West. Our plan had been to head up the west coast from the Keys, but circumstances have changed, and the west coast will have to wait. We left Key West yesterday afternoon, and had a somewhat bumpy night at sea.

Sunset over Kismet, surrounded by the sunset cruise boats, from our table at Bistro 245

We had a couple more calm and pleasant days after my last post, and then we were hit with a front that brought 40mph winds out of the north, making the anchorage miserable and trapping us on the boat for the day. Worse, the high winds were causing our anchor to plow through the muddy bottom, and after dragging a couple of boat lengths we had to weigh anchor to re-set.

Rather than the fool's errand of trying to re-set where we were, an area with somewhat poor holding and not enough room to swing on a longer scope, we decided to leave the harbor for Anchorage A, south of Tank Island, also known as Sunset Key (map). That made us next-door neighbors with the superyacht Kismet, and a couple of pleasure craft. The bottom here is sand, and we caught well as soon as we dropped, on a shorter scope than we had in Man of War.

Anchored south of Tank Island, in the relative calm of the following morning. Coasties are boarding the foreign-flagged sailboat anchored ahead of us.

Dragging anchor, no matter how predictable or unavoidable it might have been, always causes you to question your skills as a mariner. Misery loves company, and we took some comfort in watching Kismet drag, too. We were wisely anchored upwind of her. When she hauled her anchor in to reset, it came up with a whole string of lobster pots attached; I counted at least six. She dropped her other anchor (not an option for Vector) to deal with the problem.

Kismet about to drop her port anchor. If you zoom in you can see several lobster pots clustered on the starboard anchor, which can not be retracted into the pocket.

The island did a good job of breaking some of the wind and swell, so, while not exactly calm, we had a much more comfortable stay in this anchorage for the remainder of the blow. It's called Sunset Key for a reason, and we enjoyed a spectacular sunset for our dinner aboard. When the current reversed later in the evening, I had to call Kismet to check their scope; we had anchored well clear, but they had moved and likely deployed more chain after their little adventure. They told me they had four shots out (360'), which would just miss us.

By the next morning things had settled down enough for us to move back to the exact same spot in Man of War Harbor. That was fortuitous, because it was my birthday, and I had made dinner reservations at the Grande Cafe, a white-tablecloth joint with a large patio right on Duval street. We had a nice table right along the street, and the service was good, but we found the food quality not commensurate with the prices. Still, I had a very nice and relaxing day after moving the boat.

Sunset from just south of Sunset Key.

The next blow came just a couple of days later. This time winds were NW at 35, and, anticipating more wind, we had very precisely set the anchor in a spot where we could put out another 40' of chain, so that's what we did. We did not budge, but once again there was pandemonium in the anchorage, including several dinghies that broke free, one of which made its way under the low bridge to Fleming Key and precluding the sailboat who lost it from chasing it down.

Several boats dragged their way through the anchorage, including the megayacht Gallant Lady who had just set their hook in the turning basin at the onset of the storm. One sailboat broke free of its mooring and headed out to sea, where the Coast Guard chased it down with their 45' response boat and hip-towed it back to the harbor. They attached it to a mooring just a couple hundred feet from us, which is not where it had been before it broke loose.

Wayward sailboat being towed in. They passed us close aboard.

No sooner had the Coasties finished with their wayward charge than the catamaran that had anchored near us the previous day, on two anchors (seldom a good idea) dragged its way between two other boats, one unoccupied on a mooring. They called the Coasties for advice, which was to start the engines, weigh anchor, and seek safe harbor. A half hour later they called again, with their prop fouled in the other boat's mooring line and the two boats touching.

It took TowBoatUS three hours and a diver to get the two boats disentangled, including dropping the two anchors, now hopelessly fouled, altogether, with buoys attached. Once they had their anchors back aboard, they re-anchored, thankfully much father from us. That was our entertainment for the afternoon before a quiet dinner aboard. I think it might also have been the entertainment for the US Navy Seahawk helicopter that made a few circles overhead.

Sailing cat Blue Sky tangled with an unoccupied power boat on a mooring. Guys on deck are fending off.

Shortly after Louise turned in for the night, there was a loud crash on the upper deck. That turned out to be the center portion of our flybridge wind deflector blowing off in 25 knots and landing on the deck. Fortunately, the plastic itself was undamaged, and I found two of the four screws on the Portuguese bridge the next morning. There is some damage to the threads on the mounts, but with the addition of some fresh screws I managed to get it back on. We are very thankful that neither did it blow overboard, nor did the plastic around the bolt holes break.

We were ready to move along after a couple of weeks in the anchorage, but we had learned that our friends Steph and Martin aboard Blossom, and Kristina and Atle aboard Summer Star, would be headed to Stock Island from their homes in St. Petersburg on the first of the month, and so we extended our stay so we could connect. We had been tracking them on AIS, and we watched them come down the NW Channel and round the corner on their way to Stock Island.

Itinerant wind deflector.

They opted to ride to town on bicycles, and so we all met for brunch at Bagatelle so they could return in daylight. It was great catching up at a well-spaced balcony table. We saw Martin and Steph again for lunch yesterday at Blue Heaven just before weighing anchor. If we do still make it to the west coast this season, we hope to catch them all again when they return to St. Pete next month.

The big news for us concerns our nieces and their mom, who are winging their way to Florida in a week from their home in California. Long-time readers may know that we typically see them each summer in Long Island as we pass through, but, of course, this year that did not happen. About a month ago the whole family came down with Covid during the California surge, and they are taking advantage of their post-recovery immunity to get away.

Whence it came.

We've agreed to meet them in Hollywood, but with little data on how easily the virus can (or can not) still be carried and spread by those immune, we will be continuing to follow all our existing protocols. Their impending arrival on Friday evening meant we needed to jump on the first weather window that presented itself, which is how we find ourselves inbound to Port Everglades today, and skipping the west coast, at least for now.

In our final week, we made it to Bistro 245, the Duval location of Onlywood, and the Old Town Mexican Cafe in addition to the other places I mentioned. I made more progress on the project and eBay fronts, including yet again dealing with falling production on the watermaker. I have more parts coming to a locker in Fort Lauderdale. I'm also still wrestling with an air leak in the dinghy.

Why? WHY?

This was our longest stay in Key West, yet also the least expensive, at $32 per week for a dinghy pass, rather than $200 per day for a dock. But it was also our first stay where we did not have our scooters available to tool around town, a strange feeling in this scooter-intensive town. It was not much of a hardship in pandemic times.

Since we have a few days before we need to be in Hollywood, today we're going to try again for an anchorage in Fort Lauderdale. In addition to the Amazon locker, I want to tender the scuba tanks to the shop for hydro testing, and pick up some parts from the watermaker dealer in town. Also, we need a fix of our favorite coconut cheesecake. We should have our anchor down before cocktail hour.

Monday, January 25, 2021

Beginning our ninth year

We are anchored in Man of War Harbor, just off Key West, with Fleming Key to our east and Wisteria Island to our west (map). The anchorage is protected to the west and north by a shoal called the Frankfort Bank. It can get sporty in here in a northwesterly blow, but mostly it's relatively calm, save for the wakes throughout the day.

The remainder of our cruise last Tuesday was pleasant and uneventful. We ran outside the three mile limit briefly, in anticipation of our stay here, and arrived to the ship channel in very light traffic. We did have a good bit of current against us pushing into the harbor, an unavoidable artifact of where we were in the tidal cycle. I did call a couple of marinas on our way in, to see if they had any last-minute cancellations, but they did not.

Instead we made a big loop around the harbor, and found this perfect spot in 25' of water just north of the turning basin. You can't really anchor any closer than this to the dinghy dock in Key West Bight; any closer and we'd be in the turning basin, which is not allowed, even though there has not been a single ship in port since we arrived.

The holiday lights were still up in the harbor and around town when we arrived. At right the old turtle plant, now a museum, next to the turtle pen.

We have a little over 150' of chain out, which has us swinging from just outside the turning basin, to within a couple of boatlengths of several long-term denizens on moorings, meaning they don't swing nearly as far as we do. The moorings are of questionable legality, but in a place where dozens of people are squatting full-time on the no-man's-land of Wisteria Island, and dinghies zip around at high speed lit only by a cheap flashlight at night, illegal moorings are not on anyone's enforcement list.

Just before I splashed the tender, we noticed a cruising sailboat had tried to squeeze in between us and a couple of the moored boats to our north. I could see on the plotter that he was literally right in our swing circle, and we often swing quite differently from sailboats. We ruminated about calling them to ask them to move, but they shortly departed in their tender. I reasoned that when they found themselves inches away from a rusty steel boat bearing down on them with 55 tons they would figure things out.

We tendered ashore in the evening to check out the town and find some dinner. Turtle Kraal's, a normally bustling restaurant overlooking the dinghy dock, is shuttered at the moment and undergoing construction, which gave the whole landing experience a post-apocalyptic feel, and set the tone for what we would find in town. We did not venture far, going to nearby wood-fired venue Onlywood for dinner, a couple of blocks inland. It was a chilly night, and we wanted to be off the waterfront.

We've been here long enough to "fill in" our anchor circle, like those standardized test questions you answered with a #2 pencil. Yellow track was our first attempt, where we plowed the mud a little. Red track to the right is our visit from 2014.

We strolled around briefly to get the feel of the place, and that feel right now is "subdued." While the marinas are full, as a whole, Key West seems to be operating at well below half its normal evening vibe, and even less than that during the day, where the absence of cruise passengers is palpable. A short walk was plenty for our first evening, and we returned to Vector and settled in for our first night at anchor. The sailboat which had anchored too close was gone; the tide changed while we were out, and I am guessing when they returned to their boat they thought better of their choice.

Little did we realize that the evening's entertainment had not yet begun. While we were relaxing in the saloon, an urgent call came over the radio about four red flares being launched from the anchorage next door, just the other side of Fleming Key. That's a shallower and calmer anchorage than this one, but it's a long way around the key to get there, and it's a much longer and rougher dinghy ride to the dock. We went out on deck just as yet another red flare rocketed skyward; we, too, called the Coast Guard to confirm the flare sighting.

Lots of other boats were much closer than us, and radio traffic indicated several dinghies were already making way to the scene to render assistance, and so we just settled in to monitor the radio. We soon learned that there was no distress; one of the locals who had four anchors out (!) felt like some recently arrived cruising boat was anchored too close and was going to hit him, and in a drunken fit of rage was blowing a horn and using the flares to get the attention of the "offending" boat. That boat turned out to be none other than the boat that had anchored in our swing circle earlier in the afternoon.

The back side of the dockmaster's office was also festively lit.

The Coast Guard sent a small boat over to have a chat with the boat launching the flares, and I am guessing the drunken skipper got a lesson in what the penalty is for sending a false distress message (launching a red flare is no different from calling Mayday on the radio). We just looked at each other and acknowledged that, yes, we've arrived in Key West. Last time we were here, the sheriff had to go break up a fight in the anchorage, a routine occurrence, and a woman was killed when she fell out of the dilapidated dinghy that she and her partner were attempting to pilot, drunk, back to the anchorage in heavy seas.

The locals in this anchorage are very possessive of what they consider to be their space. We have a practiced eye for what is a transient cruising boat and what is a long-term denizen, often easily identifiable by large Conch Republic flags flying from the mast. As opposed to, for example, the late arrival who anchored in our circle, whom I would have sent packing at some point, we give the locals a wide berth in the anchorage, and defer to them at the dinghy landing.

As if to underscore that, yes, it really is that weird here, the next morning we awoke to more radio traffic with the Coast Guard, this time from a fishing boat that had come across a stolen Tiki Boat (of which there are many here) with yet another drunk person passed out under the tiki and drifting out to sea. The Coasties eventually arrested him and towed the Tiki back to port.

Something you don't see often: uniformed Coasties driving a Tiki Boat. USCG Photo.

We actually never left the boat that day. It was cold and windy all day, and, in fact, just as we were about to sit down to a home cooked meal, we had to scramble to re-set the anchor, which was plowing slowly through the mud in the 40 mph blow. After re-positioning a bit further from the turning basin, we put out an extra 30' of chain, after which the wind set the anchor for us very well.

That was really the last of the marginal weather, and we've been able to have dinner ashore most evenings. It's not as warm as on our visit this time last year, but comfortable for patio dining. We've been sitting down around 5:30 to have the most comfortable temperature, no trouble finding a table, and, as a bonus, happy hour pricing.

Tomorrow will mark two weeks in this spot. This is our first visit here where we have not deployed the motor scooters. which are a perfect fit in Key West, but with no crowds at all in the tourist district, we've had no trouble finding an open outdoor table for dinner even on weekend nights, and there are enough groceries, hardware, and other necessities in walking distance that it has not been an issue. If I do need to run up to Home Depot, Publix, or another store I can always take the e-bike ashore. The transit system is running here, but neither of us will get on an enclosed bus.

We've dined at many of our old favorites, some more than once, and some places we'd not have returned if not for the pandemic. In no particular order we've been to Flying Monkeys (Fogarty's), Amigos, La Trattoria (these last two now have sidewalk tables where previously there were none), Carolines, Island Dogs, The Cuban Coffee Queen (for breakfast sandwiches), Alonzo's (A&B), Thai Cuisine and Sushi Bar, Schooner Wharf, and Harpoon Harry's.

Celebratory adult beverages at brunch on Inauguration Day.

This last venue is an odd combination of a traditional diner, complete with stainless decor and waitresses who call you "hun," and a full-on tiki bar with umbrella drinks. We opted to go there for a celebratory brunch on Inauguration Day, which was delicious, but while we were there, we learned the dinner special was turkey with dressing and all the fixings. Neither of us quite met our craving for this over the holidays, and so we ended up right back there for dinner.

We've been to the post office a couple of times, most recently in search of our mail, which is somewhere in Key West but does not yet show on the web site as "delivered" (they did not have it), and I've been into the marine hardware and West Marine stores twice each. We wandered around Mallory Square, our digs from last visit and normally also the cruise port, where we discovered the Margaritaville Resort and Marina, where we stayed, changed hands early this month and is now the Opal Key. The buskers and hawkers are still working the Square, but with no cruise ships it is a shadow of its former self.

A week ago we had a bit more Coast Guard drama as they made Pan Pan calls for an EPIRB (distress beacon) activation from the vessel Cuban Missile. At first we misunderstood the call to be concerning a Cuban vessel, but on the third call it became clear. We quipped that it was a Cuban Missile crisis; someone on Facebook allowed that they thought the boat belonged to the Miami baseball player of the same nickname. It turned out to be a false alarm.

A few days ago the superyacht Kismet dropped anchor just outside the harbor. We've seen her many times at her home port of Jacksonville, but we keep crossing paths elsewhere, too. That's Sunset Key (Tank Island) to the right, as seen from our deck.

As usual when we settle in someplace like this for a while, I have been getting work done around the boat. I rebuilt the failed seawater pump for the generator, re-strung all the cellular shades, patched a small air leak in the dinghy, cleaned and reorganized the workshop, and dismantled, serviced, and evaluated two laptops and an autopilot for listing on eBay. I also got rid of a bunch of old fluids and all the recycling, including the aluminum seat base and back we removed from the dinghy, at the excellent recycling facility a few steps from the dock.

The big project, though, was the watermaker. Long-time readers will remember that we struggled mightily with the watermaker in the Bahamas last year, with air ingress into the system dropping production and ultimately destroying the feed pump. We managed to scrape through and make it back to the US with some water still in the tank, and, once back, made it a priority to keep the tanks filled until I could deal with the problem. I installed a replacement pump, had the damaged pump rebuilt, changed out a cracked filter housing, and ordered a replacement for a leaking J-tube.

At some point while still in Jacksonville I reached an impasse; the system was "sort of" working, with low production, but I still had air coming in, and we were reluctant to use it as-is for fear of damaging another pump. With fresh water plentiful, we opted to continue cruising up the east coast to either do the Down East Loop (an option which never opened up) or cruise Maine for the summer. I would resume work on the watermaker either when I had the opportunity, or when circumstances dictated we needed it.

"Opportunity" in this regard is complicated. I needed the confluence of a week or longer stop someplace (since tearing the system apart takes up lots of the engine room, making moving the boat dicey), access to a hardware store and a mail drop for parts, and being in water clean enough to run the watermaker many hours for testing. That is, in fact, a fairly rare set of circumstances while we are actually cruising. 

Three of our stateroom blinds on the saloon table for restringing. Mostly to replace the latch mechanisms, which have corroded over time.

Here in Key West we not only had the confluence of those conditions, but also the need. Well, sort of. Pushing up against three weeks since we last took on fresh water, in West Palm Beach, and also running out of clean laundry for the same reason, we were faced with the prospect of having to pay to dock for a couple of hours, maneuvering in a tight harbor with no thruster, or else make our own water. We contemplated hauling the laundry ashore to the laundromat, but that would only buy us a few days.

I was only about an hour into it when a big part of the problem revealed itself: the gasket on the inlet strainer was not making a good seal. The clear plastic bowl of the strainer was also badly crazed, so perhaps it, too, was leaking. In any event, as the very first device in the pathway, I could make no further progress on the system without fixing the strainer. My extensive collection of miscellaneous seals and O-rings had nothing of appropriate size.

At this point it was Saturday afternoon, and I had just missed the decent marine hardware place, which closes at 2. They might well have had the seal. But West Marine down the block had an entire strainer assembly in stock, and while it was for 1/2" fittings, whereas mine takes 3/4", the bowl, gasket, and strainer basket were all interchangeable. Sixty bucks later I was on my way back, parts in hand.

Original gasket and strainer bowl. Quarter for scale. I think the gasket was originally all orange. You can see the crazing or hairline cracking in the bowl if you zoom in.

The replacement strainer bowl and gasket did the trick, immediately lowering the air ingress to acceptable levels. I had to tighten bolts on the Clark pump to stop some seepage, and I have one high-pressure fitting that is weeping, but the system is mostly working. I can see that there is still a small bit of air getting in, somewhere near the 50-micron pre-filter housing that I replaced in the last go-round, but it's not enough to stop production. We're making 13gph at startup, dropping over time to about 11gph several hours later.

After making a hundred gallons or so we did some laundry, and we can now remain comfortably in this spot until we're ready to leave Key West. It's still more cost-effective to buy water at the dock, but that pesky thruster makes it more trouble than it's worth. If we have to leave this spot in the anchorage for some reason, we will reconsider.

Saturday evening we met up with our friends Dorsey and Bruce, whom we met cruising a couple of years ago. Ironically we last saw them right here in Key West, a year ago, when they were also here on their boat. They have a house in Rhode Island, and we had hoped to see them as we passed through there southbound, having missed them on the northbound leg. We had to skip RI, though, due to pandemic issues.

They were here in Key West in their Airstream trailer, staying at Boyd's Campground on Stock Island, where we stayed when we visited in Odyssey. They met us on the dinghy dock, and we walked a few blocks to First Flight Island Restaurant & Brewery. In addition to serving a "flight" of beers, the brewpub is adjacent to the birthplace of Pan Am, whose "first flight" departed Key West for Havana in 1927. The pub is decorated in Pan Am memorabilia. It was great seeing them and catching up in a well-spaced venue.

The old seat bottom pan from the dinghy. Actually much beefier construction than its replacement, with extra gussets and backing material for the fasteners, but not much I could do with it except recycle it.

An anniversary milestone also quietly came and went on Saturday, which marked eight full years that we've been cruising aboard Vector. To be fair, we had a few months, on and off, where we lived ashore with the boat merely nearby, such as the early days wherein we were still moving aboard, and our first yard stay where the staterooms were torn up, when we were able to use Odyssey as our living quarters, or the few weeks we were in the paint booth, when we borrowed an RV from a friend. But January 23, 2013 was our first day under way aboard, with the generous help of her former owner and now good friend John, who met our requirement at the time to have a licensed captain on board.

In the spirit of rolling over to our ninth year, and also having just closed out our first log book, which I am going through to collect some stats before stowing it, here are a few interesting statistics from our first eight years on board:
  • Total miles cruised: 33,217 nm
  • Total engine hours: 5,481.3
  • Average speed made good: 6.06 knots
  • Number of dockings: 418 (includes mooring balls, maybe a dozen in all)
  • Number of anchorings: 760
  • Number of locks transited: 117
Our busiest year for locks (59) and docks (90) was 2019, when we closed our Great Loop. Our busiest year for anchoring, with 146 drops, was 2020, due in part to the pandemic. Our longest non-stop passage remains 879 nm in 102.5 hours (four days, 6.5 hours) from Palm Beach to Atlantic City. On that trip we only stopped in AC for dinner, then continued on to NY harbor a couple of hours later. I might have missed a few anchorings, dockings, and lockages, as it's hard to count them in the log book, and I clearly failed to log a few as well.

Along the way I accrued enough "sea days" (minimum 720) and experience for my Master's License, and we've had many adventures, and several misadventures, all chronicled in this blog. It's been a great ride, and we can think of no better place to be for the remainder of the pandemic than living aboard our own boat.

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Headed for the Conch Republic

We are under way in the Hawk Channel, bound for Man of War Harbor in Key West. We're just passing Boca Chica and I can see the control tower, radome, and hangars of the Naval Air Station. We'll be hunting for a spot to drop the hook, since all the marinas in town are sold out, and we'll probably have a few sporty tender rides to shore through the choppy harbor in our future.

Saturday evening we dropped the hook south of Rodriguez Key, as close to shore as we could tuck (map). It was a bit bouncy through dinner but we had a comfortable night. Sunday morning we weighed anchor and have an uneventful cruise to Boot Key in Marathon, where we dropped the hook in a familiar spot southwest of the harbor entrance (map), amid a small flotilla of sailboats.

The area west of Boot Key Harbor is a customary stop for us on our way through the Keys, because there are not a lot of other options, but it is seldom comfortable, and we usually stay one night, run ashore for dinner, and leave first thing in the morning. In addition to being open to swell from any direction from S through WSW, all the traffic coming and going at Boot Key passes fairly close aboard, and the wakes are non-stop and miserable all day long.

On this stop, we wanted to visit some friends staying in the harbor, and so I called the marina an hour or so out to see if they had a mooring ball available. That's worked for us exactly once, in the shoulder season, and we stayed for several days, but with only 14 balls that fit Vector, seldom is one available, and this time was no exception. Not that picking up a ball without the thruster would have been a picnic, but at least we could have spent a few comfortable nights.

Rodriguez Key is a popular anchorage, as evidence by this bit of old line we brought up with the anchor.

It's legal to anchor inside the harbor, too, outside of the moorings and the channel that runs around them, but we know from experience that if the balls are full, there will not be any spots for Vector to anchor. We resigned ourselves to a bumpy evening; our friends were unavailable for dinner, and we agreed to meet up for lunch on Monday instead. It was too chilly Sunday to want to run in to Sunset Grill and eat on the patio, so we just had leftovers on board. By bedtime, the wakes had subsided, and we were left with just some swell from the south.

Yesterday morning we awoke to the swell increasing. We knew yesterday would not be a good travel day, but it was also not a great day to be anchored in this spot. I got a little work done in the morning, and just before noon we tendered in to Castaways to meet Julie and Glen for lunch on the patio. In all our times coming to Boot Key (nine or ten, last I counted), we never even knew this place was here, tucked away down a long side channel.

The food was decent, they had some nice drafts, and we spent a pleasant couple of hours catching up. Glen and Julie are long-time Red Cross friends, and I last saw Glen, briefly, in St Thomas on a hurricane relief operation there. They are also accomplished sailors, having been all over the world, and Julie has written a couple of best-selling books on their travels.

They are newcomers, however, to power cruising and the inland waters of the US, and much has changed in the cruising world since they sold their sailboat. We enjoyed sharing some of our more recent cruising (mis)adventures with them, and catching up on life in general. With any luck, we will see them again as we both travel up the coast and the Hudson to start our respective loops this year, us to the Down East Circle loop, and them to the Great Loop.

By the time we got back to Vector the swell out of the south was nearly intolerable, and with some effort we decked the tender and got back under way, on a day we had earmarked as unsuitable for pleasant travel. I could see on the chart that we had just enough daylight to make the three-hour trek around the west end of Munyon Island and into Newfound Harbor, which would be protected from the south.

Under way in the Hawk Channel we needed a photo to accompany our application to join a yacht club. That's pandemic hair -- neither of us has had a professional cut since February.

Sure enough, as soon as we rounded the end of the islands and past the tony Palm Island Resort, the water blissfully flattened out. My NOAA chart showed a narrow channel that carried 7-8' all the way to the inner harbor, and we arrived at a tide of +1.4' on the NOAA tables, which should have been a very comfortable run. Nevertheless, we ran out of water before reaching even the turnoff to the outer anchorages.

We made an about-face, and proceeded back to a spot where the "deep" (7'+) area was 650' wide, and much wider than that for shallower draft, and dropped the hook (map). Even though it is permitted, it's never my first choice to anchor in a spot where boats might normally be navigating at high speed, so we left our "cruise ship lights" on all night for safety. We had a very calm and comfortable night, even with the handful of wakes from passing fishing boats.

Had we been able to make it all the way into the harbor, we might have spent another night or two. There are a couple of waterfront eateries around Big Pine Key, and there's a hardware store and some other services in walking distance from a place to land the dinghy. That was less appealing with a 2.5 mile tender ride, and anchored in a high-speed thoroughfare, and so this morning we weighed anchor with the outgoing tide to make our way to Key West.

How long we remain in Key West will depend, in large part, on whether we can find a comfortable spot to anchor with a fairly easy tender ride to town. Hardware, marine parts, groceries, and, of course, plenty of outdoor dining, are all easily available in Key West, mostly a short walk from the dock. And, we're clandestine Conchs, so we get a discount all over town.

Saturday, January 9, 2021

Say goodbye to Hollywood

We are under way southbound in the Hawk Channel, visually indistinguishable from the Atlantic Ocean, bound for the Florida Keys. To our starboard is Elliott Key, and to port is open water, interrupted periodically by lights marking the reefs.

We ended up spending a full four nights in Hollywood. It felt reasonably safe to be there, with Broward county being only a little higher in infection rates than Palm Beach, a spread-out environment, and plenty of outdoor eateries with good spacing and safe practices. The weather was perfect and we went ashore nightly for dinner.

The broadwalk [sic] was moderately busy, and the beach had a fair number of sunbathers, swimmers, and even beach volleyball players. The city has allowed the broadwalk eateries to push their seating further out, which, in places, has pedestrians spilling into the bike lane, contributing to an illusion that things are as busy as normal.

That illusion is shattered, however, when walking past the enormous Margaritaville Resort. Most of the hotel windows are dark, the tiki bar fronting the broadwalk is shuttered, the ground-level pool is closed, and only the second-floor Landshark Bar and Grill seems to be open for service. Likewise the historic Hollywood Beach Resort, which has often seemed to us like the inspiration for the Tower of Terror ride at Disney, is even more crypt-like now.

Most of the restaurants on the broadwalk proper are open for business, and we enjoyed meals at our old favorites Sapore di Mare and The Taco Joint. We were able to tie the tender up at Five o'clock Somewhere, the ICW-frontage bar for Margaritaville, which is also shuttered. Our final evening we tried the award-winning burgers next door at local institution Le Tub.

A quiet part of the broadwalk at night. I was trying to capture the holiday lights.

We had nightly companionship from a lonely drum fish, who at one point was so close it sounded like someone was banging on the keel with a mallet. It was otherwise quiet at our end of the lake, and I spent the days getting some work done around the boat and trying to clean up a bit from the last big project push.

Knowing we were headed for the keys, and also that we did not want to risk going ashore anywhere in Dade county, we opted to avail ourselves of the last accessible Walmart to stock up on a few provisions. That involves a tender ride down to our secret landing in Hallandale Beach, just a few hundred feet from the store. We loaded up a backpack and a large shopping bag, plus I carried a gallon jug of motor oil in each hand on our way back to the dinghy.

I'm sure I don't need to remind everyone that there was an armed insurrection at the US Capitol while we were in Hollywood. But the initial reports coming in on-line sent me to the television, and I fired up our gyro-stabilized satellite dish for the first time in weeks. This normally sounds like aliens landing on the roof, but all we got was silence after switching it on.

A quick investigation revealed it was tripping its DC power breaker shortly after being turned on. We shut it down and found instead a couple of over-the-air TV news stations for the duration, and the following morning I dragged out the collapsible ladder and ascended the mast to have a look. The problem, or at least a side-effect of it, was immediately apparent once I got the EMI cover off the board - a blown capacitor which had exploded quite violently.

I won't bore you with a lot of technical details here, other than to say that I'm going to try to source a replacement capacitor, and if that alone does not fix the dish, the whole thing is getting scrapped. And I am hoping to do this within the next week or so, because there is no point in continuing to pay monthly for a TV service we can't tune. The positioner board is on my workbench, and the ladder folded up on deck.

Guts of the sat dome. My screwdriver is just holding wires out of the way. Blown cap is just below the two empty Molex connectors.

As a side note here I will mention that this is an older system, which came with the boat. It can only tune DirecTV, and only the old SD channels. For that privilege we pay around $1,300 a year, and that's the cheapest package available. All so that we can get news, weather, and occasional entertainment only when we are offshore more than about a dozen miles, in the Bahamas, or in a handful of inland locations where there is simply no cellular Internet. When in cell coverage in US waters, we use our unlimited Internet service to get news, weather, and entertainment.

If the dish can't be salvaged, we will simply turn off the service. We have no interest in spending money and labor on replacing it with a more modern system, one that could perhaps receive HD channels, or use a different service such as Dish. We would, instead, put the money from the subscription into a streaming service and pay-as-you-go Iridium bandwidth for offshore news and weather.

Our final night in Hollywood, we came back from dinner to find the low battery light on, started the gen, and within two minutes had to shut it down because Louise could hear there was no water flow. Fortunately we shut it down before it shut off automatically due to overheating; that shortened the amount of time I spent in my skivvies hovering over the engine replacing the impeller. Actually replacing the impeller now takes me less than one minute, but draining the coolant, opening the heat exchanger to remove all the old impeller shards, and refilling the coolant takes anywhere from five to fifteen, depending on how hot everything is.

Yesterday morning before departure I had to drop an eBay sale in the mail, and I went ashore at the nearest mailbox. It turns out all the mailboxes in Hollywood have been secured to only open about an inch, and neither the Hollywood Beach Resort nor the Hollywood Marina, where I stopped for gas, would mail my package for me. I ended up running all the way down to Hallandale Beach again, where the post office is walking distance from the secret landing. It also has a parcel drop inside a 24-hour lobby, good to know.

New York Times Covid map. Miami-Dade is very dark.

We weighed anchor at lunch time and made our way south through Aventura, Sunny Isles, and Miami. We seldom come through here without stopping, either at Maule Lake or Miami Beach, often for several days. But the Dade county Covid numbers are through the roof, and we decided we would just not risk going ashore in the county for any reason. That made for a frustrating day with bridge timing, having to putt along at 1100 rpm for a half hour to slow for one bridge, and then run up to 2200 rpm for a half hour to catch the next one.

We made it into Biscayne Bay, rounded the western corner of Key Biscayne, and dropped the hook in the busy anchorage (map) outside of the even busier No Name Harbor. In the harbor is a nice Cuban restaurant, The Boaters Grill, where we had lunch a decade ago on our training cruise, and now there is another counter restaurant with plenty of nice open-air seating at the basin, too. But we remained true to our convictions of not landing in Dade, and we had a nice dinner aboard.

Before I wrap up the post, I will mention the bow thruster, which I've brought up a couple of times recently. It's still broken, with the replacement ready to install on my bench. After the yards in Palm Beach county told me it would be weeks before we could get in, we considered contacting yards in the Fort Lauderdale area, of which there are many.

Most of the yards are up the New River, which is old hat to us now, but is a dicey proposition without a working thruster. The river is narrow and busy, with numerous drawbridges that require station-keeping. For this reason, all the big girls -- yachts longer than about 90' or so -- get towed up and down the river, with one towboat in front and one astern. The going rate for that is $1,000 per trip.

Dinner sunset from our anchorage off No Name.

There are a few yards between Lauderdale and Hollywood, and long-time readers may remember we had to stop at one (which we will never use again) to replace a broken seacock. I could have called a few of those yards to see if one could get us out long enough to replace the drive leg.

In the end, we decided that now is not the time to do this work. Case numbers are rocketing skyward from the unconstrained behavior of many over the holidays. We expect this to continue from New Years celebrations until at least the middle of January if not longer. And boatyards are excellent breeding grounds, with dozens of workers having to work in close proximity to one another, contractors, and sometimes customers.

Other than docking in marinas, or navigating very tight fairways and channels, running the boat without the thruster is just no big deal. We're not doing a lot of docking these days anyway, so living without the thruster for another few weeks is not much of a hardship. We'll try to find face docks to take on water, and we'll continue to run offshore to discharge waste. If there is someplace we really need to dock, we'll time it for slack water and minimal wind and I will do it the old-fashioned way.

Tonight we'll be anchored off Rodriguez Key, near Key Largo. We have a nice pork tenderloin for the grill, and we'll enjoy our first night in the keys surrounded by turquoise water. Tomorrow's leg will take us to Boot Key Harbor in Marathon, where we hope to catch up with long-time good friends Julie and Glen, who are taking some time there in advance of doing the Great Loop this season.