Saturday, April 27, 2013

Weather to Stay or Weather to Go

     The time has come. We're trying to head north, but as always weather is in control of our progress. We sailed from Marathon in Hawk Channel on the ocean side passing through Angelfish Creek in North Key Largo into Biscayne Bay two hours before low tide. The shallowest depths we saw at the entrance to Angelfish Creek were five feet two inches. Simple Life draws four and a half feet. Needless to say, there were a few anxious moments as Joe read off the live play by play action on the depth sounder. While sailing north in Biscayne Bay we experienced a quick rain squall and the wind freshened giving us an early arrival at Dinner Key in Coconut Grove.

     The following day we ran into a cruising couple, Jeff and Terry aboard Ariel whom we'd met at Boot Key Harbor. Whenever cruising sailors get together usually the first question asked is, "So where are you headed?" The conversation also seems to revolve around weather. We tend to compare notes. Questions are posed. "So what have you heard about the forecast?What about wind speed and direction? What are the current sea states? Are there any fronts in the forecast and the final decision maker...What is our weather router, Chris Parker's synopsis?" At times it all seems like information overload and decisions to move or wait for a favorable forecast can become overwhelming.

     When Joe and I made this trip nine years ago, we'd never heard of Chris Parker! The iPad with all of its weather apps that we all now rely upon wasn't invented! We didn't have an SSB radio. We did have a VHF radio and we used the NOAA weather broadcasts to make our own decisions. We did get caught in "weather situations," but not excessively. If we decided to make an overnight passage offshore we headed out of an inlet and if the wind or waves were too much to handle we'd make a quick decision to turn around and head back to the anchorage. Perhaps we were naive or maybe we were just lucky. At any rate we now have all kinds of weather information at our fingertips and for some reason or other it's more difficult to make weather related decisions. Sometimes I think we should just ignore the weather apps and weather routers and forecast the weather the old fashioned way. The old school idea of wet your finger, stick it up in the air and figure out where the wind is coming from is beginning to sound more feasible. The truth is perfect sailing weather days are few and far between.

     After much deliberation the decision was made to leave Dinner Key and make an offshore run for Fort Lauderdale with a possible run up the coast to Lake Worth. We experienced a good sailing day and made the decision to turn into Port Everglades (Fort Lauderdale) as the wind veered more to the northeast and was "on the nose."

     In the meantime we always appreciate and experience wherever we're holed up. Right now our new "digs" happen to be in Fort Lauderdale "the Venice of America." Simple Life is anchored in Lake Sylvia surrounded by lovely residential homes in the shadow of historic Pier 66 Restaurant with its circa 1965 revolving rooftop lounge overlooking the heart of Fort Lauderdale's intricate canal system.

     This morning Joe spoke with Chris Parker during his morning broadcast via SSB radio regarding an offshore passage from Fort Lauderdale north to Fort Pierce. The sea state is up, but the winds are forecast to shift to the east and we are scheduled for departure tomorrow morning with an arrival in Fort Pierce on Monday morning! Perhaps information overload isn't such a bad idea after all.

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Saturday, April 20, 2013

Sea Gypsies

     This morning with decisions cast in jello we lifted the outboard from the dinghy, hoisted the dinghy onto the davits and called into our weather router Chris Parker for verification that today would be a good day to head north. Chris advised us to head toward Miami, but to make certain to be tucked in somewhere safe by Sunday night. With numerous squalls accompanied by thunderstorms and high winds in excess of 40 knots due to an approaching cold front from the Carolina's a long offshore passage was not advised. But, we would make some progress and there might be a longer weather window coming up next week.

      It was time to leave Boot Key Harbor and head toward our summer destination in New England. I'm hesitant to say home because we are home regardless of where Simple Life may be anchored. I felt a twinge of sadness as we called in to the net controller to announce our departure. Joe and I have enjoyed a wonderful winter meeting those who call Boot Key home and for now it feels like our home too.

Bobby the Viking sailing Beastie

Pat and Bob of Chanticleer

     We've made a few good friends, enjoyed numerous activities and settled in to a comfortable life aboard. Life here was relatively simple. Our bikes which we bought used when we arrived were our only mode of transportation on the island. We grocery shopped, made trips to West Marine, Home Depot, restaurants and bars. I was sad leaving my old beach cruiser bike behind.

     My friend Nancy who lives in the harbor aboard Flying Dogs expressed an interest in the bike and at least now I feel that my old bike went to a good home. Nancy also promised that we could use the bikes if we return next winter. Our only other transportation was our dinghy to and from the City Marina, the beach and a few restaurants. We had no television so we read lots of books. Hopefully, we're smarter after the winter.


     Cruisers from the marina offered several activities during the season. Yoga classes, medical emergency classes, splicing classes, jewelry making, pine needle basketry, music jams were a few examples of our daily choices. But, things have been winding down for a few weeks. Cruisers have been leaving the harbor and moving on each day. Some were heading south, but most had northern destinations. All promised to return next year. Boot Key Harbor was a special place and I'm certain that next year we'll once again return "home."

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Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Sailing the Farm

     Sailing the Farm may sound like a strange title for a post, but I actually got the inspiration from Duane Cobb, a fellow cruiser who lives aboard his boat in Boot Key Harbor. Duane was kind enough to rent his sewing machine to me when I was building the dinghy chaps in the project room at the City Marina this winter. Duane is a man of few words, but occasionally offers bits of insight into his life. One day while having a chat with Duane he mentioned that one of the most interesting books he's ever had onboard was a book titled " Sailing the Farm: A Survival Guide to Homesteading on the Ocean" by Kenneth Neumeyer. Self reliance and a simple life have always been important to me and the book's title sounded intriguing.The book was published in 1981 and has been out of print for several years. However, it is available through collectors for an exorbitant price. After searching the internet I did find a pdf version for free download on a cruisers forum at

     I have been tending a few "crops" as Joe refers to them since moving aboard last June. We've been enjoying fresh basil and parsley which I use in so many of my recipes. Sailing the Farm offered tips and instructions for raising fruit bearing crops such as Tiny Tim tomatoes, a hybrid dwarf plant to strawberries and the nutritional benefits and ease of propagation of sprouts. It also offered tips for identifying and harvesting seaweed as a food source. My Irish mother used to eat Dulce when she was a child. Dulce was one of the seaweed species mentioned in the book. There were also detailed instructions for building a solar food dehydrator and a fresh water still that converts salt water to fresh drinking water!

 The book inspired me to expand my crop selection by ordering seeds for Tiny Tim Tomatoes. The plants will reach a maximum height of 12-14 inches at maturity and seem ideal for small garden spaces. The tomato seeds geminated within two days and the plants are adapting well in the marine environment. Strawberries were also recommended since they grow well in container pots. I found four strawberry plants at a local hardware store and they seem to be coming along very nicely. We've actually enjoyed a few in our morning cereal!

     So far the farm is successful. In a couple of weeks we'll see how the plants progress when Simple Life is underway to our summer destination in New England.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Snorkeling at Sombrero Reef

Sombrero Reef Light
     The Florida Reef System is a 221 mile barrier reef strand of living corals that begin at Key Biscayne and span the entire length of the Florida Keys culminating with a pristine reef at the Dry Tortugas 70 miles west of Key West. It is the third largest barrier reef in the world and since it is the only living coral reef in North America it is a national treasure. In 1990 this huge stretch of reef and nearby mangrove islands earned the much needed designation of being a national marine sanctuary. Basically, the designation of a "no take zone" prohibits fishing, anchoring and spear fishing within sensitive areas of the sanctuary boundaries. Snorkeling and diving at the reef are permitted and mooring balls have been installed to prevent damage from dragging anchors.

View of Hawk Channel from Boot Key Harbor
      Sombrero Reef is located 3 nautical miles offshore from Boot Key Harbor and is marked by the Sombrero Key Light. This winter the Keys have experienced numerous cold fronts that have ushered in northerly winds with few opportunities to snorkel or dive at the reef due to rough seas. Last week winds finally subsided and shifted east offering a window of opportunity to head out to the reef. With light winds and calm seas in the forecast, we dropped the mooring lines with an agenda of first fueling up with diesel, then testing the newly installed Lofrans Tigress anchor windlass outside of Boot Key Harbor. With all systems go we motored the three miles out toward the reef. Joe wanted to fire up the engine to ensure that everything was in proper working order in preparation for our passage north to New England in a few weeks. It was a good shake down cruise.

Sombrero Reef from Simple Life
     The motor trip east toward the reef appeared to be ideal. Flat calm turquoise water, with light easterly winds coupled with the anticipation of an enjoyable lunchtime adventure at the reef. As soon as Simple Life rounded the western side of Sombrero Key Light toward the southern edge of the reef it became evident that the seas were up. We managed to pick up a mooring ball with rough seas in relatively tight conditions with previously moored boats, divers and three foot seas. Joe had to lower the suspended dinghy from the davits in order to drop the stern ladder for our snorkeling adventure. With the rough sea state conditions I momentarily feared that the sharp edges of the ladder would puncture the dinghy as the boat pitched back and forth in the seas but, Joe managed to kick the dinghy away from the stern while lowering the ladder.

Joe enjoying his first look at the reef
     The boat rolled about in the sea conditions and it quickly became apparent that I was not leaving the boat. On the other hand Joe eagerly donned his wetsuit and jumped in. Even though conditions weren't as ideal as expected the water clarity was exceptional. With at least 40 foot visibility Joe identified schools of Yellowtail Snapper, Seargeant Majors, Parrot Fish, one Great Barracuda that took a "shine" to him by shadowing his every move, Atlantic Spadefish, and varieties of Angelfish that swam in and out of numerous varieties of corals.

     After snorkeling at a few reef patches for over a half hour Joe returned to the boat. Even though he wore a full wetsuit with water temps averaging in the high seventies he began feeling chilled and thought it would be best to climb aboard and head back to the harbor.

     The reef trip was on Joe's winter checklist of things to do while staying in Boot Key Harbor. He was satisfied with his snorkeling adventure but, would have enjoyed it more if I had joined him. I enter the water only when it's 85 degrees or warmer so even though we're in the Florida Keys it's still too chilly for me. Maybe next time...

Location:Hawk Channel off Vaca Key, Marathon, Florida Keys
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