01/18/2015, Indiantown Marina, Florida
Hmmm packing up all of the boat "stuff", clothes, etc. plus the new addition of our bicycles - it is all familiar to us. This is our fourth "rodeo" - we are not new to this - however, this time we were certain we would be able to prep the boat and be out of Indiantown Marina quickly. Wiley has written another play - The Meltdown- about the great Chicago heat-wave disaster for the Leadership Academy and needs to be back at the end of January to see it produced. The show is on February 3rd.
We arrived late in Chattanooga on the way down - and had the unfortunate but entertaining experience of eating at a Waffle House - the only restaurant open at the late hour. The waitress called Wiley "darling", "sweetheart", as she served our greasy eggs and spoke with her southern accent - we really had a hard time understanding what she was saying except for the sweet words she offered to Wiley. We were in the south!
We stopped by Pat's on the way down. A familiar stop, but this year it is no longer my father and Pat's- just Pat's home. My father passed away in November and it is very strange to be stopping by without seeing him. I miss him. However, as we attempted to find ways to support Pat, we found her once again playing the role of the hostess. This was not our intent - we truly wanted to find ways to support her as she deals with this great loss. We shared a lovely meal, went out to an art gallery and lunch. And of course, more hugs to find our way.
We arrived in Indiantown and found that the boat inside was in great shape, however the entire outside was green - the jungle takes over whenever you are away in Florida. Wiley tells me at home that he does not do "projects" on the house - so this year I decided that I don't do boat bottoms - sanding or painting. So, this year Wiley did all the hard labor on the boat bottom while I cleaned, unloaded the truck, and put away all of our stuff. We both worked on waxing the boat and finally she looked beautiful and was ready to "splash". And that she did - she splashed but the engine did not work.
Our great adventure that has made this trip different from all others is that Wiley is the hero of the marina. He removed a 3 foot poisonous Cottonmouth snake from a sailboat. A scared couple came into the marina office telling everyone about the snake. No one wanted to do anything about it! The snake had crawled up from the water onto the boat and hid under the dodger of the boat. Wiley, in front of an audience of 8-10 chicken-hearted observers, bravely unsnapped the dodger and using a boat hook pushed the snake and he slinked off into the water! Needless to say - we are now constantly on the lookout for snakes - including on the boat - especially since our boat is in the same location that the boat that had the snake on it was located!
So- Déjà vu -here we are "stuck in Indiantown once again. Recalling being stuck previously when we had to have the engine replaced - there is really nothing to do or see in Indiantown. In order to pass the time we rode our bikes along the highway to Port Macaya - and discovered after about a 12-mile ride past sugar cane fields, swamp, the canal, and large trucks blowing past us carrying sugar cane we could climb a hill to see Lake Okeechobee and a bike trail. We then turned around and rode back.
We are on the wait and see list at Indiantown - wait and see if the alternator works, what else is wrong with the engine, and then we can decide if we will be able to move the boat.
Waiting in swampland - Déjà vu!
We had only a few weeks left after returning to Key Largo, but they were great weeks. We kept sailing out to the reefs and diving. Early in our stay at Key Largo, there were lots of days when the sea was way too rough to dive. Now, in May, the seas ranged from dead calm to 1' to 2'.
The diving was a lot of fun. Merry bought me a new SCUBAPRO BC for my birthday. Now we both have truly excellent SCUBA equipment. After going a month without seeing any sharks, one day Merry saw three nurse sharks on one dive. The water temperature was now in the low 80s, so our "cool water" 5mm wetsuits went into the bottom of the locker, replaced by our 3/2mm "warm water" suits. One day, I "free dove" to 30' and watched a SCUBA student and instructor kneeling in the sand, doing a skills test. On a dive on Molasses reef, we experienced the strongest current we ever encountered while diving. We are trained to always swim into the current at the start of a dive. We kicked hard and used 2,000 PSI of air (we carry 3,000) going up current, and then turned back on the reciprocal compass course, and "flew" like superman, as the current carried us across the bottom until we looked up to see the hull of our boat. After we boarded les Miserables and got our ear off, we saw three divers from one of the dive boats, on the surface clinging to the last mooring buoy "down current" on the reef, waving for help. Before we needed to do anything the dive boat moved to that mooring and "picked them up".
After one day of diving, I had one of my least favorite, and Merry her favorite experience of our stay at Key Largo. We sailed north to elbow Reef, further from the Key Largo canal than we had ever done before. We did two dives, but didn't start the second one until 4:30 pm. By the time we got back near the canal entrance, it was "stone dark." It is really different coming into that very narrow canal entrance at night. Of course, "Fernando" our GPS chart plotter shows us where we are, and where to go - but it still "whit knuckle time". We almost hit one of the channel day marks that are not lit - Merry, up at the bow, yelled, "turn to starboard! Now!" and we missed it by maybe three feet. There was a green light, which I thought marked the north side of the canal, which turned out to be a house, 200' from the channel. The canal is only about 100' wide, and has a concrete ledge on the south bank that sticks out maybe five feet, just 3 or 4 feet underwater. There is a big boat moored on the north side at the entrance, making for a tight passage even in broad daylight. To top it off, it was very shallow at low tide - our keel clears by mere inches - and this was low tide. We made it, but it was very tense. I talked to one of the commercial dive boat captains about this later, and he said that even he hates coming in the canal at night. After we were on the canal, it was still hard to see, so Merry used a dive light up in the bow to pick out moored boats, and turn at 'crash corner'. While she was doing this, a wonderful thing happened. A dolphin had followed us into the canal and appeared at the bow, swimming back and forth with us as went up the canal. At one point the dolphin rolled over his side and was looking up at Merry and then rolling onto his other side to repeat this "connection". Merry was laughing in delight - while I was still tensely clutching the wheel.
Our best dives were on Memorial Day weekend. We were on a mooring at Mollasses Key, and heard someone call to us - it was our friends, the Barkely's who had moved to Vero Beach from Illinois. Ron swam and Mavis paddled sitting in an inner tube, over to our boat to say hi.
Then it was time to head home. We decided to leave in the late after at half-tide rising and sail north to Carysfort reef, and spend the night on a dive mooring. This worked pretty well, but there was a 2-34 ' sea running and the boat "rocked and rolled " at the mooring all night. We left the mooring and went out into the Atlantic and then hoisted the main, unfurled the jib, shut down the engine and had a terrific sail all the way to Fort Lauderdale, going 6 knots some of the time. At one point, we were hit on the beam by a 5-foot wave, which caused our coffee pot to be thrown across the cabin covering the deck below with coffee grounds - ugh.
The only other unhappy event of our entire trip home occurred when we docked at the municipal marina at Fort Lauderdale - Los Olas Marina. There is a foundational rule when it comes to docking a sailboat NEVER DOCK WITH THE WIND OR CURRENT BEHIND THE BOAT, PUSHING YOU INTO THE DOCK. The tide was coming in, pushing the boat toward the marina docks. We could have gone to a mooring ball, across the river from the marina, but then we would have the inconvenience of having to use the dinghy to get to the marina building, showers, etc. There is a bridge that crossed the river in the middle of the marina, dividing it in half; we could have waited for the bridge to open and then docked into the current. Merry said that was what we should do. But, I thought we would be able to slow the boat by going hard astern, and dock okay. It didn't' work. As soon as we turned into the marina's fairway, now beam on to the current the boat began moving sideways toward the finger docks. We almost hit the stern of a boat, and then did hit the end of the dock at the slip we were trying to get into. We ended up with the boat trapped diagonally across two slips, with Merry jumping onto the dock with a bowline. It took a lot of hard hauling on lines to het the boat straightened out in her slip. It turned out that we did not do any damage, except to my ego!
The rest was easy. We spent a couple nights at the marina and having fun in Fort Lauderdale, and then left before dawn, at slack tide (no current!) down the river to the inlet and out into the Atlantic for a great sail to Lake Worth/Palm Beach. We got into the Gulf Stream, and at one point were doing eight knots! We stayed at Old Port Cove again, and from there voyaged up the ICW to Peck Lake, and from there to Indiantown.
After the usual hard work, getting a rental truck, loading everything from the boat into it, buffing out and waxing the hull, etc. , we said goodbye to our friends at the Indiantown Marina, and drove the truck back to Geneva, Illinois - stopping to see Merry's father and his wife Pat along the way.
We had six months of not really doing much of anything, (diving, reading, relaxing, swimming, going to tourist sites and best of all time with our kids - in the Keys and at home) -it still seemed like "time well spent". Go figure.
In mid-May, as planned, we both flew home for our daughter-in-law Tesia's graduation, and the award luncheon for our youngest son, Sean. Like everything else at Key Largo, it was easy. The dock-master, Brian would keep a good watch on Les Miserables while we were gone. It is a half mile walk to a Enterprise Rent-a-Car, and not much more than an hour to the airport in Miami.
The luncheon for Sean's Crimestopper Award was impressive. The mayor of Arlington Heights spoke, then the chief of Police, then Sean's commander. All of them praised Sean's dedication and initiative. Then the annual Crimestopper award was presented. Followed by a wonderful acceptance speech by Sean. Merry and I were treated like important visiting dignitaries. Afterwards, we went to a tavern where police like to go, and all of Sean's fellow officers were there to celebrate. The award includes a $500.00 check, which by tradition the annual winner puts toward the bar-tab for the celebration. We got to meet a lot of Sean's fellow officers, and they were very impressive people, exactly the sort of folks you would want to have as police officers and detectives. I felt like I was in an old Hill Street Blues episode and had a great time!
The graduation ceremony at NIU was also impressive. Tesia worked full time as a nurse while going to NIU for her BS degree. While (as you would expect) it was a large ceremony (I'm going to guess that there were over a thousand graduates) as far as we were concerned, the whole thing was just about our beautiful and amazing daughter-in-law. Her parents came down from Minnesota for her graduation, and her aunt attended as well. We all went to an Italian restaurant in Geneva afterwards to celebrate.
I accomplished some things in our prairie garden while we were home. Our friends, Nancy and Terry brought over a couple of yellow coneflowers, which they dug up from their yard for my birthday. I planted these, and got the filter system for the pond running. It felt great to be home, but before we knew it, it was time to go to the airport and fly back to Florida.
While we had a wonderful year, the two special events in May were the highpoints!
We got to Key Largo four days before the "kids" - Sean and Tesia. They would be down for a week. We would spend a week SCUBA diving there and then leave to head north to Lake Worth, Palm Beach; from there we would cross to the Bahamas for the third time. A couple months cruising the Abacos, and then back across, and head for home. This was the plan and a highly workable plan it was.
Years ago - back in the early 70s - noted author and SCUBA diver Bill Barada wrote an article in Skin Diver Magazine called "Keyitis". Mr. Barada living in the Florida Keys at the time, defined "Keyitis" as a condition caused by staying in the Florida Keys, which has as its chief symptoms an entire los of personal ambition, coupled with an almost bovine contentment with one's lot in life, and an enhanced ability to enjoy each day as it comes. I believed that we were immune. Just as cockroaches cannot survive in Chicago winter, our climate seems to make people of Chicago-land "strivers" - never content with how things are, or what they are, but always wanting and working toward - MORE! Chicago has been called " the city on the make" a place noted for ambition and "hustle". Chicagoans who spend much time in Florida gain the impression that natives of Florida could not live in the Chicago area, because most, like the cockroach, could not survive a Chicago winter, and the rest could not survive the frantic pace and competition, and would quickly be "Killed and eaten"!
Fate took a hand, and forever killed my delusion that we were immune from "Keyitis". Merry's knee got worse and worse to the point where not only could she no longer run, but walking any distance caused great discomfort. This is a big problem, since living on the boat - with no car- requires that we walk everywhere. Merry came back from one walk to the Publix grocery store - a four-mile round trip - limping badly. I urged her to fly home and see a doctor. On top of this, our son Brad - a martial arts expert - broke a bone in his hand, which required surgery. He made me promise that his mother would not come home for the surgery - a hard promise to keep. I called my brother Keith, - if you look up the term "nice guy" in the dictionary his picture is there - who volunteered to take Brad to his surgery, stay with him, drive him home, and stay afterwards. With his own grit and his Uncle Keith's help Brad made it through the surgery just fine. However, in view of all the circumstances, Merry decided to fly home for a few weeks so that she could see a doctor about her knee and help Brad recover from his surgery.
Merry left me alone on the boat at Marina Del Mar. She made me promise that I would not take the boat out by myself to go diving. So, I was stuck. A kind of total inertia set in. Each day began with the free continental breakfast on the patio, a mere thirty feet from Les Miserables. It then took a long time to read the Chicago Tribune (on kindle) and long conversations with other sailors. There is no beach on Key Largo, but I found a place I could walk to and climb down into the water, so some days I went for a swim in the ocean. Marina Del Mar has three pools, so some days I swam laps. Lunch and a beer at Sharkey's became routine. Once in a while, I would go for a run. Watching the dive boats go in and out and going diving a couple times myself with a friend, off his boat. Meaning to work on minor repairs on maintenance the boat needed, but just never seeming to get done. Getting to know Jackie Luna, the new (temporary) assistant dock master and her fiancé' Z, who works on a diving charter boat. Going to dive shops and picking out a new Scubpro BC for Merry - Watching the African Queen (the actual boat they used to make the movie) go up and down the canal every day, taking tourists out. Meaning to get some writing done on my latest play, but never writing anything. Accomplishing nothing, day after day, and not feeling guilty about it, as happy and content as a walrus laying in the sun - and increasingly bearing more than a small physical resemblance to said walrus.
So when Merry got back, she found a changed man. A man, with the newly acquired insight that going aground is really not a problem at all if you merely decide to stay forever exactly where you are stuck. The Bahamas no long beckoned. Why move? All the hassle - all that sailing, when we can simply stay here at marina Del Mar, go for little sails to and from the reef, and go scuba diving every day.
But Merry came back full of Chicago hustle. She has been hired to create four new courses for the doctoral program in Leadership in Adult Learning and Education at Aurora University. She is teaching a course at AU in June! She is teaching two of the new courses she is creating, during the fall term 2014! She has to get ready! We need to provision the boat for our voyage to the Bahamas! Activity! Work! Accomplish! Strive!
So we went to lunch at Sharkey's sitting at a table in the sun, watching the boats go in and out of the canal. Fish sandwiches. A couple of glasses of wine- earnest discussions. We had learned that our youngest son Sean, a detective with the Arlington Heights Police Department, would be receiving the annual Crime-stopper Award at a luncheon held in his honor in May, the same week that his wife, our lovely daughter-in-law Tesia, was graduating from Northern Illinois University with her nursing BA degree. The mayor, Chief of Police, Sean's commander and Sean himself would all be giving speeches. Obviously, we had to fly home for these landmark events, and it would be a lot easier to do this if we were in the Keys, than in the Bahamas. The Bahamas had raised the cost of a cruising permit for a 30-foot boat from $150 (for 90 days) to $300. By the bottom of the second glass of wine, we determined that we would stay at Marina Del Mar.
Inertia is truly the greatest force in the universe. In the Keys, inertia is amplified to the 10th power.
Life was good. We took Les Miserables out to the reef for SCUBA diving twenty-nine times. We usually did two dives each time. We frequently dove at Molasses Reef, which was closest to Key Largo Canal and Marina Del Mar, but we also dove at French Reef, Grecian Rocks, and Dry Rocks (where the statue of Christ of the Abyss is). The water was warm and clear, and we had a lot of fun.
Our diving had one troubling aspect. A lot of the coral is dead. Grecian Rocks was probably the worst. Over much of the reef you see dead coral covered by green algae. Most of the Staghorn coral is dead. You would also see a lot of dead brain coral. It takes fifty years for brain coral to grow to the size of a basketball. They big ones are a thousand years old. We have been diving in the Keys since the 1970s and the destruction of the coral over time is depressing. A study showed that there has been a 44% decline in coral in the keys just since 1996. The coral is being killed by sewage treatment, overdevelopment, run-off from fertilizers, and herbicides used on lawns and golf courses, and dredging. It has been estimated that if the things that are killing the coral were to come to a complete stop, the reef would recover in ONLY THREE HUNDRED THOUSAND YEARS.
The scuba diving community in Florida has made a valiant effort to protect the reefs. They have done a great job hunting and killing lionfish in the Pennekamp Coral Reef Park - we saw them on almost every dive in the Bahamas, and only two times during our entire time at key Largo. (The Lionfish is an invasive species from the Pacific, which has had a devastating impact on the Atlantic coast and the Caribbean). Dive shops and dive boats in Key Largo have done a good job educating divers about not touching coral, as evidence by the fact that we hardly ever saw soft coral that had been broken off. There is also a modest effort to "farm" Staghorn coral, and divers take the coral to the reefs and plant it. It's obvious that this effort pales to insignificance compared to the scale of destruction, which the people of the state of Florida have inflicted upon the only coral reef in the U.S.
The Governor of Florida (who was just re-elected) is a right-wing Republican, as are a majority of both houses of the state legislature. Republicans do not care about the environment. Absent some strong Federal intervention - which is unlikely, since Republicans control Congress - America's only coral reef is doomed.
Yet for now, the diving in John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park is still a lot of fun. Visibility underwater is not as good as in the Bahamas - 30-50 feet, as opposed to 80-100 feet. Sharks have been a protected species in the Bahamas for more than thirty years, so you see a lot of them when diving - nurse, blacktip, and big bull sharks. In the Keys, we only saw a few nurse sharks with the exception of one blacktip Wiley saw with Sean. Of course sharks are not a protected species in Florida. We saw some big groupers in the Keys, but there were not tame like the ones we saw in the Bahamas. On the other hand we saw a lot more of the colorful small reef fish in the keys. This may be a function of the good job local divers have done, controlling the Lionfish population.
One day morphed into the next. We ate at great restaurants - including the Pilot House, which is built over the water, with "windows" in the floor so that you can watch the fish swim by as you dine. Twice we drove a rental car to Key West, where we toured Earnest Hemingway's house, had a beer and burger in his honor at famous "Sloppy Joe's Bar", one of his old haunts. We also took a tour of the USCG Ingham, a big Treasury class coast guard cutter that played an important role in the Battle of the Atlantic in World War II. We found a terrific restaurant with great food, Blue Moon, where you eat outside, and roosters, hens and chickens wander around underneath the tables and around your feet. (No chicken dinner that night!)
Back at Key Largo, we swam in the beautiful pool at Marina Del Mar, and Merry worked on her school work. We made friends with Brian, the dock master and a professional caliber diver, Boxley, a "50 something" server at Sharkey's who seems to have been everywhere and done everything, including writing songs some of which he played and sang for us, Jackie and "Z her fiancé - a wonderful smart young couple who live in Tavernier but work on Key Largo. Of course, we also made many short term friendships with other sailors as they came, stayed a while, and then left. I was thrilled to meet Captain Frank Pappy, who wrote the Cruising guide to the Florida Keys, which I used to read on cold winter nights in Illinois dreaming of day sailing in the keys.
Absent the misfortune of some terrible personal tragedy, a person would have to work really hard to be unhappy in the Keys, and I didn't work hard at anything.
One of the most difficult parts about being a parent is "letting go". Watching your child take their first steps that you celebrate you are unaware that someday those steps will lead to them walking away from you to live their own life. As they continue to grow you begin to realize what a treasure the time is that you get to watch them as kids. Kids just playing - laughing, trying out new roles, and just purely amazed at the world they are discovering. The gift of course is that you get to discover or re-discover it all with them. Each of our boys found their own unique joys and shared in their discoveries. One their many discovers were the many creatures that they kept in our home - Brad's snake Slinky, the boys turtles - Jim McMann and the Fridge, a snapping turtle - Shambler, and even a scorpion - Stogie (later named Cruella - as she ate all of her young!). Creatures were always part of the many experiences the boys shared. Including the frog that was left in someone's pocket discovered floating in the washing machine ... and more. So, when our boys, Brad and Sean, were young we came down to Key Largo along with my mother and took them out snorkeling in John Pennekamp Underwater Reef Park to find even more creatures - however, ones that would not find a place in our home. Now, Brad was not very fond of the water - he was more of a "land animal" lover. However, Sean took to it like a fish. He was the one who would jump off the bow of the boat during our summer vacations screaming into the cold Lake Michigan water and come up sputtering with a big smile on his face. So he was thrilled to see an Eagle Ray on his first snorkeling experience. He held onto that experience and we did as well.
Time has gone by and the boys are now adult men. So as a gift we presented Sean with an opportunity to take scuba diving lessons. Even with his busy schedule as a husband and detective, he was able to complete the lessons and was certified this past year. Our sailing plan this year included time in the Florida Keys so that Sean and Tesia could go out on our boat allowing Sean to try out his new certification. We had just arrived in Key Largo shortly before the "kids" - Sean and Tesia arrived. (They love it when I refer to them as the kids as they have now been married for eight years! ) We hadn't had an opportunity to plan trips out to the reef to go diving because it took us quite a while to get the boat in the water and ready in Indiantown, stop at a marina in Stuart to get a new winch installed, make our way from Lake Worth, Coconut Grove, and finally find a place in Key Largo.
As a result, our first diving experience on the Molasses reef was with Sean and Tesia. It was amazing to watch the "kids" - Sean and Tesia play in the water and discover all the reef life surrounding our boat. The first dive Sean and Wiley partnered up and Tesia and I went off snorkeling. While snorkeling I was lucky enough to watch my grown son off playing once again. Tesia and I donned wetsuits and off we went with a floating dive flag. We found a Goliath Grouper close in on the reef getting his gills cleaned by small cleaner fish as well as the usual assortment of beautiful reef fish and I got a chance to watch Tesia at play as well. She is an excellent snorkeler and looked so at ease in the water. Both of them came up from the water with new experiences to share - Sean told of seeing a couple of sharks, large midnight parrot fish, an eel, queen angelfish... etc. etc. Tesia wanted to know the names of the fish she saw - spotlight parrot fish, filefish, blue reef fish, and grunts... The second dive I was paired with Sean and we did a very short dive as the current was getting stronger and my buoyancy compensator was not working correctly. However, I was thrilled to watch him darting, bubbles floating up, looking under coral heads - eager to take in all that he could. I was sure that I saw him smiling even with the regulator in his mouth.
So it was a joy to watch "the kids" having fun, but I soon discovered that it was not "the kids" that I was really enjoying but their experiences shared as adults. We were having the same experiences and talking about them. This is one of the great shifts that happened - they are no longer -kids - but adults that shared sharing conch fritters, dinner out on the bay at Snooks, snorkeling at Bahia Mar, stories, jokes, and cocktails. I miss my time watching my children play but am thrilled to let that go since now I get to thoroughly share their joy as adults as friends that we get to go and play with. We are lucky they chose to spend their time with a couple of "old people" who loved spending time with interesting, interested, and fun adults.
I would class the anchorage at Rodriquez Key as "fair weather only," but in nice weather it is beautiful. Our plan was to sail to Tavernier Key, anchor for the night, and go into the marina the next day. Because it is only about 5 miles from Rodriquez Key to Tavernier Key, it would be an easy day. We lingered over breakfast, went for a swim, and at our leisure got underway.
Tavernier Key proved to be an even nicer anchorage than Rodriquez, and with better protection from weather. Like Rodriquez, it is uninhabited, with nice stands of mangrove trees.
We decided to take Dimples to the marina where we would be staying. It is on the lower end of Key Largo. The marina is located a long way up a canal, and having never been there before, we found that locating the entrance and going in the canal was a little tricky. There was a lot of shoal water, but of course we knew this from the charts and it was no problem for our dingy Dimples, which needs only two feet of water for her outboard to clear the bottom. We brought our hand-held depth-finder to "scout" the entrance for later, when we brought Les Miserables in. It was a good strategy, and would have made taking our "big" boat in later a much calmer experience.
The canal seemed very narrow, because it was tightly packed with boats on both sides. We found the marina, and the slip we had reserved for two weeks. It wasn't hard - it was the only empty slip. However, there was a huge problem. Merry has had some still undiagnosed problem with one of her knees for years in spite of multiple trips to local doctors. Last late fall, during a four mile run, Merry's knee "went out," and she came limping back in pain. Now she had a noticeable limp and experiences some pain in her knee. The marina had no "finger docks" - just a row of pilings on each side of the boat as you pulled in, and a walkway wall in front of the boat, with cleats for mooring lines. You had to clamber from the bow of the boat down the walkway to get off the boat (or from the stern if we backed in), and for Merry this would be impossible.
We walked around the marina, and were shown great hospitality by some people who live on boats there. The area is full of very small houses, and mobile homes - some right on the canal. There is a gas station you can walk to that has a few food items. There is nothing else. We have no car and no bikes. This place was not going to work. Our plan was in ruins. We had no place to stay with the boat - and Sean and Tesia were arriving in four days. YIPES! We motored back to Les Miserables trying to come up with a new plan.
Back on the boat, we dined handsomely on pre-made packaged sandwiches we had purchased at the gas station, accompanied by a nice French wine. A nice sunset turned into a beautiful starry night.
By the time we went to bed, we had a new plan. Merry called the marina in Tavenier to cancel our reservation and call Marina Del Mar even though we knew it would be an expensive stay. In addition we had originally decided not to stay at Marina Del Mar because Merry thought that I would be a constant nervous wreck going in and out of the place. The canal is like the one at Tavenier, but much busier. The cruising guide warns that during the day, large "excursion" fishing boats, dive boats, big sailboats that take people out to snorkel, and even a big glass-bottom boat makes constant passages in and out. If a large boat is docked just past the jetty at the entrance to the canal, you may not be able to see a vessel coming from the other side of it. Further up the canal, it makes a 90 degree turn. At that spot, you cannot see what is coming from the other side - it is truly a "blind corner." To make it worse, there isn't enough room for two vessels - unless one or both are small to pass each other. It's like a blind corner in which a two-lane road turns into only one lane through the turn. It is aptly named "crash corner"! To add to these navigational features, the channel at the entrance of the canal is only 4 feet 6 inches deep at low- low tide. If we ever came in at low tide we would have only inches between our keel and the channel bottom. Thus, we had decided earlier to not stay there because of the expense, my nerves + blood pressure, and getting the boat in and out to go diving on the reef would be a challenge.
However, we were desperate.
We got up the next morning, put on our wetsuits, and snorkeled over to Tavernier Key. We spent time among the mangrove roots on the edge of the island, in two or three feet of water. We knew that mangroves are the "nursery of the reef," and this is certainly true at Tavernier Key. We saw huge school of tropical reef fish - only they were all little babies an inch or less long. Merry also saw a school of tiny barracudas - babies eating babies!
After we got back to the boat, Merry called the marina in Tavernier and explained the reason we would not be able to commit to our reservation. She offered to pay for canceling the reservation, but the lady who owned the place declined. She could not have been nicer. She then called Marina Del Mar. The guy at Marina Del Mar was also very friendly, told us we would not have trouble getting in, and so Merry reserved us a slip.
I was nervous finding the channel into the canal, and making our way into the marina. Merry checked tide tables to make sure we weren't going in at low tide. We followed proper procedure. As we approached the jetty, we called: "Security, Security, Security (pronounced "se cure a tay") sailing vessel Les Miserables inbound Port Largo Canal at the jetty. Will stand by on 16 (channel) for concerned traffic". We did the same thing when we approached "crash corner". The idea of course, is to warn vessels coming the other way. They can then call you on the radio, and you "negotiate" who passes the jetty, or crash corner, first. This seems to work very well, and I have been told there hasn't been a crash since everybody started doing this. After the first couple of times, going in and out of the Port Largo Canal it because a usually easy and comfortable routine.
I quickly ceased to worry about the cost. After all, being here and having Tesia and Sean fly down to go diving and snorkeling at John Pennekamp Coral Reef Park off our sailboat was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Thus, its not a normal expense it has to be amortized! The math works as follows: THE LARGE EXPENSE OF STAYING AT MARINA DEL MAR is divided by 77 (the total number of years I will live if my life is of average life for a male in the US), producing a number which is in turn divided by 365 (the number of days that I'm alive each year) proving that the expense of staying here is, IN FACT, ONLY PENNIES PER DAY.
The slips at Marina Del Mar have two pilings on each side to secure the boat to, - and two cleats on the face dock for bow or stern lines (lots of boats back in to slips here). This is the best possible set-up for keeping the boat safe if there are high winds, because the lines to the pilings on each side can be used to "center" the boat and keep it from hitting pilings on the dock. There are also "finger docks" so that you can board the boat from the side (the usual arrangement). Merry happily found that she was able to get on and off the boat.
The owner of Marina Del Mar also owns the Holiday Inn, which adjoins it and the Marriot - as a result we have access to three beautiful swimming pools. One pool has a waterfall and Tikki Bar. One is very large - u shaped and big enough to swim laps. They offer free towels, free 'continental breakfast' and even free bags of popcorn in the afternoon. The showers and laundry room are for the exclusive use of boaters and they are maintained like the rest of the hotel - they are spotlessly clean! Brian the Dock-master, as well as the entire staff could not be nicer. The only marina we have ever stayed at that I liked more was the Hopetown Inn and Marina in the Bahamas.
There are also a dozen good restaurants within easy walking distance, along with dive shops and Divers supply a huge "discount" scuba store that also fills scuba tanks. There is a big Publix grocery store two miles up highway A1A. The place is perfect.
For me, it is also a place of dreams. The first summer that we were married - the summer of 1972 - Merry and I had watched the old movie Key Largo, starring Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, at our first apartment. We thought the movie was very romantic and we liked it a lot, and the experience of watching it is etched in my memory. Later, we loved Bertie Higgin's song - Key Largo: "We had it all - just like Boggie and Bacall - Sailing on to Key Largo (poor Bertie's only hit).
Years later, we drove down here twice with the kids and stayed at the Marina Del Mar Hotel. We went out on the "snorkel boats" with the kids, and I remember Sean and I chasing a 2 foot barracuda until it got mad at us and "turned" as if he was going to bite! Merry and I also bought a package of dives on a small dive boat and spent a lot of time underwater on the reef while the boys grandma, Merry's mother, took the boys to the pool and played cards.
Most of all, I remember having a great romantic dinner at a wonderful restaurant, and then walking with Merry along the canal, looking at all the boats - especially the sailboats. There was a beautiful young couple who owned a big old sailboat, and there was a homemade sign by the boat, advertising "day sails, snorkel trips, sunset cruises and weddings". I used to think, "imagine what it would be like to live on a sailboat at Key Largo! It must be wonderful beyond words."
Now we are here, and when Merry and I sit in the cockpit of our beloved Les Miserables in our slip at Key Largo, drinking wine or having dinner, and couples stroll by, I wonder what are they thinking?
Is it "imagine what it would be like to live on a sailboat at Key Largo?" Will they have a dream come true like mine - Or, if they are a young couple is it, " look at the two old people on the sailboat. I can't imagine what it is like to be old like that!"