Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Bona Dia

Not Buenas Dias it seems. I'll test this out this morning in Merida, Mexico, but on Isla Mujeres they've shortened the morning greeting to Bona Dia. In Bonaire and in many of the eastern Caribbean where Papiamento is spoken, it's Bon Dia. But whatever way you say it, it certainly is a Beautiful Morning here!

Fresh fish and rice on the beach watching the boats
And a couple of cold beers of course...
Local fishing boats and nets line some sections of the beach
Or hammocks under the palms
Russ decides on a lounge chair for his nap
The main street Hidalgo is pedestrian only
And is lined with handicraft shops and restaurants
We walked most mornings and again in the late afternoon

Oscar night at a local restaurant with all the trimmings
As Russ flies home Wednesday morning we rented a car in Cancun on Monday and drove to Merida to see this lovely Colonial city and visit the Mayan temple Chichen Itza on the way back. It's been a great week relaxing in Isla Mujeres before hand. We have a big swimming pool at the Marina and there are endless white sand beaches to walk on and swim from. We dinghied over to a wreck and rock spit across the harbor and enjoyed the snorkeling too. And knowing me, you understand we've done a lot of great eating. The food is very good here and excellent value. And so far, not even a hint of Montezuma taking revenge.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Viva Mexico!

Fair weather sea scape
Relaxing in the cockpit

Rear view
Looking through the dodger window as the sun sets
Pool view at the Marina Pariso de Yates, Isla Mujeres

We hoisted sail and headed southwest Monday 2/20 at 11:30AM. We had a mechanic in on Saturday at Pablo's Marina, Marathon, to look at the mechanical fuel pump (and hopefully replace it). He wasn't able to before the following week so Scott more permanently installed the electric pump he temporarily put in to get us to Marathon from Ft. Lauderdale. He finished up that very morning and we were off for a long cruise off shore.
The weather report was excellent, at least in my view. "Boring" was our weather forecaster Chris Parker's sum up. "I love boring!", was my reply. And in summary, it was. The nice kind - sunny, light winds (in the right direction mostly) and choppy, but short seas. We arrived 60 hours later at 9:30PM on Wednesday night in the pitch black, crossed over the shallow bar (3 feet under the keel) north of Isla Mujeres and anchored soon after in the lee of the island.
Our route took us across the Gulf Stream from Marathon to just off Havana, Cuba. We arrived in the early morning and turned more west, following the Cuban coast until the western end, when we again crossed the Gulf Stream to Mexico. We saw many freighters and cruise ships during the trip, but no pleasure craft or fishing vessels. In fact we didn't see a single boat arrive or depart from Cuban shores in our twenty four hours close off their coast. It was eerie. After leaving the Havana area we saw few lights on shore as well.
We have an A.I.S. system on board which displays all commercial vessels and many cruising boats such as ours on our chart plotter (a good size visual screen right in the cockpit). It gives information such as the vessel's name, speed, course direction and closest point of approach to us. Occasionally we saw a light at night and had no corresponding AIS info. In that case we can track the vessel on our radar. But having the AIS really has made us much more secure. In almost all cases the other ship sees us way in advance and makes any course changes necessary. Once a freighter evidently thought a half mile was far enough away to pass us in the dark and I took a right hand turn away to make it a mile.
We had made a number of calculations trying to determine the shortest and longest possible trip length. The upshot was, we went even faster overall than expected. So we approached Isla Mujeres on the third night, with no moon. The safest thing is to just sail up and down the coast for another 8 hours but in this case we felt it was safe to get behind the island and anchor in it's lee (but not of course attempt to enter the harbor). We had two sets of electronic charts and a guide book all agreeing on the course. Still it's nerve wracking to cross the shallow bar in the pitch black. Once anchored though, it was a huge relief and a good night's sleep.
We had a three hour watch schedule. With Russ aboard that means six hours off at night. What a difference. And of course, we had the pleasure of his company. Add to this, wonderful food at every meal and all in all, it was a fantastic trip.
And Isla Mujeres is beautiful. The next day we entered the harbor and after briefly anchoring and checking out the Marina by dinghy, decided to tie up at Marina Paraiso de Yates and coordinate our extensive check in process with Chepo, the Manager. It was a lucky decision. Mexico has recently insisted on Zarpes (Documentation from the departing country) and we didn't have one. Scott even called the Coast Guard to ask about regulations but they didn't know. With Chepo's help, they accepted our Marina receipts from Marathon.
More about our adventures in the next entry.

Monday, February 20, 2012

He's BACK and We're Off to Mexico

We are leaving Marathon today for a four day, three night continuous passage to Isla Mujeres, Mexico. We sail west towards Key West and then across the Gulf Stream to Cuba. We follow the Cuban coast around the west end and then across the Yucatan Channel (again cross the Gulf Stream) to Isla Mujeres. We should arrive Thursday. The weather looks good for the passage although it deteriorates after that. So wish us luck. I'll be in touch later in Mexico!
Our good friend Russ Wolf has joined us for the third
time for a two week passage. This time to Mexico.
We sail good-bye for the second time to our cruising
buddies, Peter and Julie. They have sold Anything Goes.
Just leaving our first anchorage at Rodriguez Key we
passed a Outward Bound boat being rowed . Quite a
contrast to the big yacht nearby.
Scott and Russ dove to remove some pieces of line from
a crab pot. They are thick around the Keys. 
Sunset anchored off Boot Key Harbor, Marathon

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Bridges, Bridges, Bridges

Size isn't everything as this pocket cruiser proves
The mooring field at Vero Beach
We left Vero Beach in the afternoon with an easy 20 miles to Ft. Pierce (for a change). Our Aussie/Kiwi friends Peter and Julie on Anything Goes had been waiting there for a week for us. I had daily calls to they and Diane and Mitch updating them on our progress south. So it was terrific to tie up at the dock and have dinner with all of them that night to celebrate. Julie and Peter had some big news - they had a buyer for their boat. It was with mixed feelings they were contemplating the sale, but there was no dickering over the price. The survey was scheduled for 2/14 in Ft. Lauderdale so the timing was good (just too soon).
Scott soldiering on in the pouring rain.
Our main sail has had problems coming out for some time.
We thought we had it beat but here it is again, stuck.
It was a great weekend. Diane and Mitch had us over to their Yacht Club for drinks Friday night and lent us a car for the stay. Our plans for Super Bowl Sunday changed when Diane's Uncle died and she had to cancel their party. Jeanette and Alan Feuer, last featured here on our blog in XXX, returned from a cruise and joined us for dinner and the game at our Marina restaurant. It was a very close exciting contest with unfortunately for us, an unhappy ending. We're big Patriot's fans. Unusually for me and I'm not sure why, but I didn't take a single photo for four days! Sorry.
Scott, Peter and Julie on the New River
Heather, Peter and Julie at our "Farewell Party"
On Monday morning we were off early again for 60 plus miles down to the north end of Lake Worth near Palm Beach. Julie and Peter had some repairs done 30 miles south and as we passed by, they pulled in behind us. Buddy boats for a few more days. It was a wet miserable trip and we endured two more days of it anchored there. We had planned to meet friends of Julie and Peter for lunch but couldn't find a place to land the dinghy! The usual location was closed due to bridge construction and the nearby Marina wouldn't let us land. So we just stayed on our boats, snugged in down below.
The Floridian on Las Olas Boulevard
That's Scott Free far left with Anything Goes behind her
The trip from Ft. Pierce is cluttered with opening bridges but the next day's trip down to Ft. Lauderdale is much worse. Last year with Russ we went through more than 30 and the trip took 12 hours. There was no way we were doing that again. Luckily the weather was passable for the trip outside. It rained most of the day but there was following wind about 12 knots, enough to put up our sails. And most of them did go up or rather out. Our main however didn't complete the trip. It's bunched up inside the roller furling. We thought we had this problem resolved in the Chesapeake. We had a rigger come and work on it. But no, evidently not.
Ft. Lauderdale beach - a great place to walk
Scott's back in the engine room!
Our favorite spot in Ft. Lauderdale is up the New River at the Downtown Municipal Marina, only $1.25 a foot (that's cheap in Florida) and right in the middle of things. That might be considered a negative by some; it's a busy place with lots of boat and pedestrian traffic. But we love it. The next morning we all walked down to the Floridian (since 1952) on Los Olas, a great place to have breakfast (it's actually open 24 hours a day).
After a great "Farewell Dinner" on board with Julie and Peter, we set out at 6:30AM for an eighty-five mile trip down to Rodrieguez Key. The weather report was for winds 10-15 from the NE. We exited the inlet and started rocking and rolling. The wind was 15-20 gusting 25 and from the east. Big confused waves with short intervals caused us to take "blue" water over the bow as we headed out to sea. Suddenly the engine stopped working. This was rather nerve wracking as we weren't that far from shore. We quickly got our jib out and turned away from the wind. Scott went below to check it out. The raw water pump had given up. So no water into the engine and the impeller blew.
Dinner at the Cabana Restaurant in West Palm Beach
Ft. Lauderdale calls itself the Venice of California and there
sure are a lot of canals (and houses that are trying to look
like Palazzos)
Las Olas is lined with shops and restaurants and is really
lively at night.
Luckily we still have Boat US insurance and so we got on the VHF to Boat US. It was over an hour of miserable (did I mention it was pouring rain and cold) rough conditions, trying to stay close to the inlet. Meanwhile, having not expected this weather, I hadn't fully battened down our inside elements and many of them were rolling around on the floor. Yech! Just then my forgotten coffee special mug (a gift from Sean) rolled overboard.
But the tow boat came and we made slow progress back to our slip. Julie and Peter, having been warned by phone, were there to help us tie up. Scott got right on the phone and ordered a new pump to be delivered on Monday, 2/13.
But we just make the best of these change of plans. Enterprise has special weekend rates so we rented a car. Most of the time we were running up to West Marine, Home Depot and Publix, but the four of us also had a fun day Saturday up south. We attended the Boat Gear Sale/Sea Food Festival (rather tacky and little sea food), had dinner at the Cabana Restaurant (533 Clematis St. 561-833-4773) in West Palm after checking with Trip Advisor - #3 out of 272 restaurants. It was excellent, a mixture of Cuban and other South American cuisines. We had another whole meal out of the leftovers. Afterwards we attended a Saute to Louis Armstrong by the Palm Beach Pops in Boca Raton. It was really fun of course and capped off a spontaneous day off.
Scott worked all day Monday and Tuesday installing the new raw water pump and fixing the suddenly not working generator. Our plans now are to rent a car and pick up Russ in Miami and then leave Thursday morning to make (hopefully) tracks down to the Keys. Fingers crossed....

Monday, February 13, 2012

It's A Boat!

Bob Belcher taking a brief break 
Our engine on the bottom and the generator on the top of
the photo, taken looking down at the salon floor (when
all the floorboards and insulation boards are removed.
That's a comment boaters make (mostly to other boaters) when their heads are down in the engine room and the boat isn't leaving the Marina as expected. We've said this a lot this last month. First of all let me bring you up to date. We're in Ft. Lauderdale tied up at the Downtown New River Marina and as I write this Scott's whole body is stretched out over the engine. But a lot has happened since my last entry so I'm going backward and starting with our repairs at Green Cove Spring Marina after we returned from Savannah.
The view from our stern of  Green Cove Springs Marina
The office and "Tree of Wisdom" location here. That's our
euphemism for the gathering spot outdoors for the cruisers,
usually men and often smokers. A TV was installed in the
It took eight days before all the repair work was finished and on Saturday, 1/28, we cast off our lines and headed down the St. John's river. We had a long day ahead of us, over 60 miles, through Jacksonville to a small anchorage at Palm Island, mile 765. We've stayed there before and although we need to be quite close to the ICW end to get enough water, it's a peaceful spot. The next morning we were off early again for another long day to Daytona. It was cold up in the cockpit steering and one really has to pay attention all the time with a 6 and 1/2 foot draft and a 63 foot mast! Not ten miles south we heard a squealing noise from below. A hose had come loose and was spraying on the fan belt. Luckily it was a wide area of the channel and we were able to get our anchor down - and Scott was back in the engine room. After some difficulty he managed a repair and we were off again.
It was late when we pulled into the Marina in Daytona and the next morning we decided to take a break. We had a great lazy day exploring the town and resting. So we were bright and bushy tailed the next morning early for another long day, this time to Port Canavaral. We anchored far off the channel behind the NASA Causeway in a rain of ash. Yes, ash - there was a huge brush fire nearby that cast an enormous plume of smoke.
Approaching Jacksonville on the St. John's River. There
were limited hours on the railroad bridge, making an
additional complication
The quiet anchorage at Palm Island, mile 765 (the mileage
starts in Norfolk, VA)
The view across the marshes and the channel
Scott affecting repairs in close quarters (the floorboards
aren't up).
A row of pelicans watch us cross under a bridge
The next morning we used a broom to sweep off some of the ash and were off at dawn. Our next stop was a mooring in Vero Beach at the Municipal Marina. This left us with an easy day down to Ft. Pierce the next afternoon. We'd been on the phone to Diane and Mitch Korbey, our good friends who live there, and Peter and Julie, our Kiwi cruiser friends who were waiting there for us on Anything Goes. So we had a nice long walk to the beach in the morning and had a great breakfast at the Lemon Tree Restaurant overlooking the ocean. More the come soon...
At dawn the smoky haze still left after the fire turned
everything  pastel hues and the sky and water were often
Dolphins followed us and played next to the boat all
the way down the ICW
At first we thought a lighthouse was headed our way!