Sunday, March 31, 2013

Easter Sunrise Service at Sombrero Beach

     The unfamiliar sound of the alarm rang at 5:00 AM this morning. It was quite a shock to both of us after spending nearly three laid back months in the Florida Keys and waking up most mornings at 8:30 just in time for the SSB Cruisheimer's net. Yesterday, I met my friend Nancy from SV Flying Dogs in the project room at the marina. She asked if Joe and I would like to join the dinghy flotilla that planned to head out at 6:15 AM for the Easter Sunday Sunrise Service at Sombrero Beach. Pastor Keith from the Assembly of God New Life Church would officiate the celebration. It sounded like something we'd enjoy.

Sunrise at Sombrero Beach
     Of course when the alarm rang it was still dark with nearly a full moon. While making coffee Joe said, "Why do plans like these always seem like better idea in the daylight?" We'd made plans with Nancy and the crew on a neighboring boat SV It'll Be Alright to meet at their boat in our dinghy at 6:15 AM. It was dark, an hour before sunrise, but the moon was shining brightly in the western sky offering just enough visibility to negotiate the mangrove lined channel toward Sister Creek. It would take twenty minutes to dinghy out of the harbor by way of the creek to Sombrero Beach.

     Music wafted over the dunes as we neared the shallow stretch of beach where the dinghies landed. A crowd had already gathered at the beach. The band played a mixture of Christian and Gospel songs with strains of bluegrass interspersed. Palm tree branches seemed to sway to the rhythms of the tunes while pelicans and seagulls made their first flights after roosting overnight in the nearby mangroves.

     The down to earth pastor reminded us all of our blessings on this day as we were all invited to take communion and celebrate our gift of life. It was our first Easter sunrise service and I can't imagine a better setting than overlooking the Atlantic Ocean on Easter Sunday morning on Sombrero Beach in the Florida Keys.


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Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Dinghy Chaps-The Final Chap-ter

Completion of the dinghy chaps took much longer than anticipated. Joe and I tried to add the hours of labor and came up with thirty five hours of sewing not counting half days that were spent designing and cutting the template, fabric and chafe patches. It was an exhausting experience, but one that I do not regret. After all anytime there's an opportunity for a learning experience how can you go wrong?

While I was holed up in the workroom at the sewing machine, Joe also made good use of his time preparing for the HAM exams at the Marathon library. He made use of the free WiFi at the marina by downloading free PDF files of previous exams. He used these as his study guides along with a book loaned to him by a neighboring cruiser. As expected, Joe passed the exam with flying colors!

During the project I made several new friends who frequented the workroom. Duane Cobb who lives aboard his boat Trilogy rented his sewing machine to me and we had some interesting chats when I took a few breaks during each day. Duane previously owned a horse farm in Stowe, Vermont, taught jumping, competed in shows, played polo and even taught Maria von Trapp to ride horses when she was 67 years old!

Another New Englander named Bob Moberg had been rebuilding a new sail in the workroom while I worked on the chaps. Bob owned Carmel sail loft
for a number of years before returning to Boot Key Harbor two years ago. He and his wife had lived aboard in the harbor in the 80's and he always hoped to return. He currently lives aboard Wind Song his 35 foot Pearson with his faithful, furry companion Mopei. Bob was kind enough to lend a few tools to me during my time in the shop. Eavesdropping on conversations between Duane, Bob and others were the highlight of my day. They seemed always to center on the latest scuttlebutt in the harbor sprinkled with names such as One Eyed Tom, Wobbly Bob and Fiberglass Dan.

One of the aspects of the community that I enjoyed while undertaking this project was the amount of interest others showed for the progression of the project. Each day, after arriving at 8:00 AM I could count on several people wandering in during the day to have a chat, check on my progress and offer encouragement. It meant a lot that they showed such genuine interest.

Our friends Lawrence and Elaine from Elle and I were so excited to see the dinghy chaps completed that they came up on deck as we motored by armed with two cameras capturing our pride and delight. They are credited with all of the photos in this blog.

So now everyone is asking what's next? Right now my ambitions are to enjoy some time off. Play my heart out on guitar, ride my bike to some handy bars for happy hour, dinghy to the beach and eventually explore (weather permitting) some of the lower keys, the Marquesas, and Dry Tortougas aboard the Simple Life.

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Location:Boot Key Harbor, Florida Keys

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

A Marathon Project

Motorcycle Chaps
     Last week I alluded to my goals and objectives for the upcoming week. I began the enormous project of building "chaps" for the dinghy. In the event that you as most people have no idea what I'm talking about, I thought a photo would clarify the issue. To quote Albert Einstein, "One picture is worth a thousand words."

          The dinghy is an inflatable model fabricated from hypalon which is a synthetic rubber known for its resistance to ultraviolet light, chemicals and temperature extremes. It's ruggedly built but, by no means indestructible. When Simple Life is lying at anchor or on a mooring the dinghy is our mode of transportation to and from shore and it gets a workout. Even though hypalon is UV resistant constant time in the tropics eventually take its toll on the "skin." Dinghy chaps are similar to slipcovers for furniture and they provide protection for what lies underneath.

     One of the many perks of spending time in Boot Key Harbor is the accessibility to the huge industrial inspired work room at the Marathon City Marina. With this in mind I monitored one of our cruising friends Katie from Mezzaluna while she took on the challenge of chap building prior to leaving for the Bahamas and beyond. At that time I had absolutely no aspirations of building my own. I actually hoped to have chaps built by a canvas maker. I started making the rounds of some of the numerous canvas shops in Marathon. It seemed the consensus on a price for custom chaps was in the range of $1500.00 or more!
      Recently, Joe and I attended a marine canvas workshop that was offered by Bob Moberg at the City Marina. Bob is a sail and canvas maker who lives aboard his Pearson 35 in Boot Key Harbor. The most important tip that I filed away from the workshop was to use a stapler instead of basting when building canvas projects! What a great idea! Armed with my new piece of information, I considered building my own chaps. I've done my share of canvas work and actually owned a vintage Singer 107 workhorse before moving aboard. However, building them from scratch was not a project that I relished. I knew exactly what was involved. Sunbrella is the fabric of choice for this type of project and it's comparable to sewing cardboard!
Constructing the template from vinyl

      Since there were no commercial templates available, I had to construct my own using a clear vinyl shower curtain. The template also had to be drawn and cut at the dinghy dock in the water. The conditions were less than ideal. It was hot with little or no breeze.

Building the template at the dinghy dock
      The docks were crowded and whenever another dinghy motored in to tie up at the dock it usually bumped into mine, causing me to draw squiggly lines on the template instead of straight ones as well as challenging my balance. Once the template was finished Joe calculated the yardage needed and I ordered it from Winfield at Carnival Canvas on the Overseas Highway who gave me a good discount on the fabric. He also offered some tips and advice and said, "Better you building this thing than me." He also wished me luck.


   Within a few days I'd cut the fabric from the template, stapled it inside out on the dinghy while trying my best not to fall overboard and began the task of sewing it together in stages. I no longer own a sewing machine, but I was given the name of Duane Cobb who lives on anchor in the harbor aboard his boat Trilogy who often sews projects for $20.00 per hour.
Cutting the Sunbrella from the template


      After contacting Duane, he and I worked on the project together for a couple of days then he offered to rent his machine to me to for $25.00 per day to complete the finish work. In between days of sewing Joe and I would head out to Sombrero Beach to pull the dinghy onto the sand for a fitting and to facilitate the job of stapling the hem. A leach line will be fed through the pocket of the hem to secure the cover under the rub rail.

Duane Cobb and me beginning construction of the chaps
First fitting at Sombrero Beach (hem still in progress)
     Although the project is a behemoth, it has been progressing along on schedule. I've enjoyed the learning experience of designing the template and watching it come to fruition. There remains a substantial amount of finish work applying chafe guards and top stitching, but so far the chaps are taking shape. I can finally see the "light at the end of the tunnel" and it looks like another bright sunny day in the Florida Keys.

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Friday, March 1, 2013

Handy Bars in Marathon

Enjoying stone crab claws at Pincer's Perch
     For sailors it's always befitting to discover  a handy bar within dinghying distance of the boat's mooring in a harbor. Boot Key Harbor is unsurpassed in the number of nearby handy bars. Perhaps this sober reality reflects the predilection of many who call Boot Key Harbor home. One of our favorite haunts Pincer's Perch is on the bayside across the Overseas Highway at mile marker 47. The name Pincer comes from the number of stone crab claws (the record is 1875 in one day) that are served there and stone crab claws just happen to be their specialty appetizer. Joe and I also enjoy the tranquilizing, turquoise panorama of Florida Bay from the second story open air raw bar. The combination of the view, a few claws and a  cocktail before sunset can be spellbinding.
Porky's Bayside's quirky Keys decor
     Since our arrival we've discovered a few other watering holes within biking distance along the Overseas Highway that cater to the fraternal happy hour amongst cruisers. One being Porky's Bayside near the Seven Mile Bridge and the Sunset Grill which offers the best unadulterated view of the sunset on the island. Porky's quirky decor is distinctly a middle Keys design. On first impression the bay front bar with its corrugated roof has the appearance of a fort fashioned with weathered wooden crates by a crew of kids. The roof is supported by exposed two by fours that have been plastered with autographed one dollar bills by visiting "plastered" patrons. The weathered wooden floorboards have a distinctive pitch.                                                                   
Happy hour at Porky's Bayside
    Kind of makes you wonder if you've already had too much to drink even before taking a seat at the bar. Porky's is definitely our favorite with its barbecued pork sliders for $5.00 and excellent nachos. I think the fact that someone built the bar so that the lone tree on the property was incorporated into the actual structure was the deciding factor for me. According to legend, Porky's was also a favorite of Earnest Hemingway and Elizabeth Taylor. 

The pool and tiki at the Sunset Grille
      We also enjoy the Sunset Grille next to the Seven Mile Bridge on the oceanside. This bar and restaurant are decidedly more upscale than others with its crafted Chickee style building on the water and poolside bar. There's a heated salt water pool where a weary bike rider can take a dip and simultaneously sip a frosty Pain Killer rum drink while enjoying the view of the Seven Mile Bridge. It also offers a great place to watch the sunset over Hawk Channel.


     Another enjoyable establishment is Burdines at the entrance to Boot Key Harbor. We occasionally fire up the dinghy and motor through the old bascule bridge to Burdines dinghy dock for lunch. It can also be reached by bicycle and the food is good especially their secret fries recipe. So far I've sampled the stone crab bisque and the conch chowder. Both were excellent. 

     Ok, just to clue you in, we actually frequent these places only once or twice a week. Most of the time we're busy with other activities that are organized for cruisers in the harbor. Yoga on Tuesdays and Thursdays, splicing classes, marine power energy management seminars, pine needle basket making classes, balloon animal demonstrations, music jams, sterling silver jewelry making and the list goes on. This week Joe and I began building chaps for our dinghy. Chaps for a dinghy...sounds like an article from a smutty magazine doesn't it? If you're curious about "chaps" tune in to the upcoming blog and I'll have a better explanation for this one.

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