While we were at Coconut Grove we became more and more concerned that our youngest son Sean and daughter-in-law Tesia would be arriving in Key Largo in a week or so, and we still didn't have a place for our boat where we could comfortably stay. At last an old friend, Ron Barkley, who lives in Vero Beach with his wife Mavis, was able to come up with a place after we had been in contact with them through email. It was at a marina at Tavernier, which we thought would be about 4 miles south of where Sean and Tesia would be staying. The marina would give us easy access to Hawk Channel, so we would have easy access to Hawk Channel, and take Them out to the reefs - Sean is a newly-certified SCUBA diver and was eager to get underwater. The marina which charges $2.00 per foot per day, which is still expensive to us, but we called and learned that a slip opened up and other than the slip the marina was full. So we made a reservation.
We made a plant to depart early in the morning and sail to an anchorage at Old Rhodes Key, where we would spend the night, and then to Tavernier the next day.
We left our morning at 8 o'clock and by 8:24 had cleared Dinner Key Channel. Once we were in Biscayne Bay, we began seeing lots of Portuguese Man-O-War drifting on the surface. They look like blue bottles floating in the water. We were forced to conclude that it would be a really good idea to wear a wetsuit, or at least a dive skin when diving, snorkeling, or swimming down here. At 9:38 we cleared Biscayne Channel, and sailed out into the Atlantic. We could see "Stiltsville" to the north - houses built over the water on high pilings. Only seven of them remain, and the owners are at constant war with the National Park Service, which controls the Key Biscayne National Marine Sanctuary. It was amazing to learn that the "waterworld" houses have survived numerous hurricanes, including Andrew.
Of course, the wind dropped to 4.9 knots. Les Miserable at 10,500 pounds displacement, is heavy for her class of sailboat, and does not do well in light winds. It seems like whenever the old girl has to get us someplace on a schedule - in this case, to meet the kids in key Largo - we get one of three kinds of wind: no wind, or wind too light to sail in; or great howling gusts of wind coming from exactly the direction we have to go.
Still, it was a sunny beautiful day, temperature in the low 80s - 65 degrees warmer than in Chicago. With our new engine Tim McGee running like a Swiss sewing machine we had little to complain about. In fact, we felt so good about the day that we decided to motor right past Old Rhodes Key, which is open to the north, east, and south and therefore lousy, unprotected anchorage in even the most benevolent weather.
Once we were off Key Largo, we called Sean on the cell phone to tell him - we were right off our "island of dreams," where we had spent happy times with Brad and Sean when they were little - along with their Grandma. Sean said he could hardly wait to get there!
At 7:15 we lowered the anchor off Rodriquez Key, only two miles from the entrance to the Key Largo canal. There were 4 other boats in the anchorage. I dove the anchor and found that it was set in a sand and grassy bottom in 8 feet of water - mediocre holding, but good enough on a clear, calm night.
We could see the lights of Key Largo across the water. After an absence of more than 20 years - we were finally back in Key Largo.
The "water taxi" guys at the Coconut Grove Sailing Club are very friendly, which is a good thing if your staying there, because you get to see them a lot! We elected to stay on a mooring at the Coconut Grove Sailing Club instead of the huge municipal moorings by Dinner Key because the municipal moorings are very open to whatever seas are prevailing on Biscayne Bay - there is no break wall or other protection of any kind. The municipal moorings are said to be very uncomfortable in any wind over 12 knots.
Ah - our first thoughts about the upside of staying in Coconut Grove: The moorings at the sailing club are tucked in much more comfortably, and have some protection from the wave action from the bay. This is one of the big advantages of staying there. When we arrived a marina manager/dockhand - greeted us in the water taxi and directed us right to our mooring. This was a great service. Additionally, we just happened to arrive at the time that the famous Coconut Grove Art Show was running and were given free admittance since the marina was surrounded by the art show. The weather was warm, sunny, and very welcoming.
Then again - our first thoughts about the downside of staying in Coconut Grove: While we (as we almost always do) found the other transient boats to be friendly and helpful the club members (locals who keep their boats there) were not very friendly nor were they helpful. The bathrooms and showers for transients were filthy - the second worst we have encountered since we left Illinois (only the marina in Dunkirk, New York was worse.) Little pieces of toilet paper on the floor in one of the men's showers, which I noticed on our first night there, were still present when we spent our last night there almost a week later. It smelled of raw sewage. Merry encountered several large cockroaches - or as they say in the south Palmetto Bugs - on the floor in the toilet stall, which caused her to quickly abandon - EWWW!! using the facilities at the sailing club. The women's facilities were filthy with the shower stalls coated with inch think black mildew growing along the shower walls. When taking a shower Merry used the 3 sailors' rules when using public facilities - do-not to breathe deeply, wear flip flops, and do not accidently bump into the walls. Our first or second day we used Dimples to go ashore, and were told by an officious older gentleman that he was the Club's facilities manager, and that we were not allowed to come ashore in our dinghy to their docks, but were required to use the free water taxi. Though he didn't explain at the time - the reason was so that the sailing classes could set up their sailing dinghies at the dock with out be encumbered by other dinghies.
The water taxis were convenient and accessible, so it was really no problem. We would simply hail them on our hand held radio and they would quickly arrive. The facilities manager came into use the men's bathroom a few days later, while I was finishing my morning shower. Apparently, the conditions he observed (unlike the sight of little Dimples tied to one of the docks) did not bother him, as a result it was never cleaned up.
The downsides however are crabby quibbles. We more than liked the "town" of Coconut Grove, which is actually a neighborhood of Miami. The huge art far went on for the first three days we were there. This was great because it took three days to go up and down the countless rows of art booths. Some of the art, including photography, sculptures, paining, and prints was magnificent. Additionally, there were lots of food vendors and being Florida most of it did not hold up to our high Chicago standards. One low point was observing a hot dog vendor putting KETCHUP on hotdogs! These people are animals.
By contrast, we had lunch twice at a wonderful restaurant named Jacquars. We dined outside "sidewalk café style". The wine, food, and service were wonderful.
The neighborhood also had a small mall, with a multiplex movie theater. This is a rare treat for cruising sailors. Alas, the movies they were showing were either ones we had already seen, or ones we didn't want to see. We ended up seeing Monuments Men, a badly executed film about an interesting subject - the special US Army unit charged with protecting and recovering great art during World War II.
There is a fabulous little bookstore in Coconut Grove that we visited frequently and Merry even found a hairdresser to "clean her up" - her words not mine! There was a Fresh Market Grocery store nearby, as well as a Starbucks, and really most everything we needed or wanted we had easy access to. The only exception was that the sailing club had no fuel dock so we filled Les Miserables fuel tank from the three five gallon jugs we keep on deck, then I motored in Dimples about a mile or so to a larger marina to refill the cans. I ended up having to make two trips - which I must admit I thoroughly enjoyed.
So all in all, looking back, the upside of Coconut Grove certainly won us over. Should we have the opportunity to return we know what to expect - a good time!
It will surprise no one that a huge swinger like me would like Fort Lauderdale. Running along the beach, enjoying the huge margaritas, and best of all the "scenery."
There is even one piece of interesting historical signage. On the beach in Fort Lauderdale, a sign indicates that this was the spot where a series of "wade-ins" occurred during the civil rights era of the 1960s. Black citizens of Fort Lauderdale had been allocated a "negro beach," but promised beach facilities and a necessary access road were never built. This is yet another example if how, during the era of "separate but equal" the whites usually cheated - the segregated facilities allowed "colored" people were almost always unequal, especially in the South where (in most places) blacks were prevented from voting until 1965, and thus had little political power. The first "wade-in" occurred when a group of young black people, lead by their minister, went down to the all white beach after church, kicked off their shoes, and waded in. This sparked more protests; the filing of a civil rights suit, and eventually, the beach where I ran and swam when we were in Lauderdale was open for everyone.
Alas, the day came when we departed Fort Lauderdale, going down the ICW to the turning basin where the huge ships are (we counted five) big cruise ships), down the inlet and into the Atlantic Ocean. The cruise ships look like tall sky scrapers lying on the water. Small cities that take to the sea and one we noticed, with a large screened movie sized screen atop the ship. We looked like a little ant along side these giants. We got to the point where Les Miserables had forty feet of water under her keel, hoisted the mainsail and jib, shut down the engine, and by God we were sailing! The roller-furling jib is working fine now, the reefing lines are no longer tangled, we had a modest but usable 10-12 knots. The waves were little "one footers", the boat was heeling maybe ten degrees, it was 72 degrees and sunny, and Merry's kind of sailing day. Smooth, sailing, light winds, ...relaxing - with sunshine - a perfect cruise.
Of course it didn't last. The wind "clocked around" until we were close-hauled and sailing within 45 degrees of the direction of the wind. The wind was now from the southeast. Then the wind began to die. When the wind died down to 6 knots we started the engine - when it fell to 2 knots we took the sail in and we were once again a slow motorboat.
From Fort Lauderdale to Miami is not much more than 20 miles and soon it became time to enter the inlet for the Port of Miami. We picked a bad time to do so.
The inlet has two great vices - tidal current and traffic. If the traffic consists of a cruise ship in or out, the Coast Guard closes the inlet - at times, for a whole day. The reason is simple - they don't want what happened to the USS Cole happening to a cruise ship loaded with thousands of people.
No cruise ship was arriving or departing the inlet when we made our turn around the entrance buoy and headed up the inlet into the Port of Miami. However, there was lots of traffic including some sailboats, but mostly powerboats of every size and description, from jet skis to huge sport-fishing boats, and loud fast powerful cigarette boats. The result was the most slaphappy collection of boat wakes we have experienced in Les Miserable. We were tossed this way and that as we were passed on both sides from behind by boats and by boats approaching. Some of the wakes were large enough to actually swamp a small boat. Of course, with her high freeboard and 3,800 pound keel, Les Miserable finds boat wakes a mere annoyance. However, any passengers on Les Miserable will find the experience living up to her namesake. One of the cruising guides advises against making passages into our out of Miami on weekends precisely because of the heavy boat traffic. Added to the incredible boat wakes was a strong current by the outgoing tide. The current must have been close to three knots, because even after the engine, "Tim McGee," was pushed to 3200 rpms - "full speed ahead!" - we were going only 3.8 knots.
Because conditions were so unpleasant we opted to detour off the main channel into Miami and instead take a channel called the "Lummis Cut," to the "Dodge Cut," and then turn onto the ICW. The Port of Miami is located on Dodge Island formed by the main channel on the north, and Lummis cut on the south. It is interesting, but unattractive, with cranes and docks for large container ships, everything with a "seen better days" look to it. To someone used to the magnificent architecture of Chicago even the skyline of Miami is unimpressive. The boat traffic, the current, the mediocre visual appeal of the city snuffed out the idea of spending more time there.
By the time we reached the ICW the current was most gone and we throttled "Tim McGee" back to 2800 rpm for a comfortable 5.2 knots. South of downtown Miami we went under the big Eddie Rickenbacker Causeway Bridge, with a vertical clearance of 120 feet. After the bridge we entered Biscayne Bay, a large body of water only ten or twelve feet deep. Just before mile 1095 on the ICW - the distance Les Miserable had come since we first entered the ICW in Norfolk, Virginia in 2011 - we turned into Dinner Key Channel to take a mooring at the Coconut Grove Sailing Club.
We "skipped" Miami. Actually, quite honestly we didn't go into Miami to explore marinas, the culture of the city, etc. We were eager to move down the coastline to get to the Keys because Sean and Tesia were meeting us in Key Largo to go scuba diving. However, we think that from now on, we may stay out in the Atlantic and pass Miami offshore. There is no compelling reason for sailors to go in, other than to dine on Cuban Chicken, black beans and rice in "Little Havana", or to see if the Miami Vice police detectives really don't wear socks!
We were very eager to leave Indiantown. We waited for additional days for our mail that was delayed due to Atlanta being paralyzed by 2 inches of snow. Next day delivery took 6 days. The UPS trucks in Georgia were at the mercy of the "idiots" who could not deal with 2 inches of snow.
Additionally, the secrets of the ancient tombs of Indiantown were slowly revealed to us. It seemed that until our pockets/ bank accounts are empty or near empty we would not leave Indiantown. There is always some work that is needed on the boat that we don't know how to do (seeing as how we don't know how to do anything).
However, the work allowed us the opportunity to stay for the Super Bowl party. A pot-luck dinner was held in the screened in porch area that has a television (with the worst sound system ever!) mounted at the top of the wall. In the tradition of the Midwest I made a pot of chili with all of the trimmings. As we sat in the screened room an elderly man came in and announced he had something for us to eat, which he carried in a brown paper bag. He brought out a piece of fried something and thrust it insistently at Wiley. He said he would not tell us what it was but we should try it. Wiley nibbled lightly with a certain lack of enthusiasm as the colorful old southern gent looked on. In fairness, Wiley later admitted that, "it was the best toad I ever et". I refused to eat it unless he told me what it was. He refused to divulge his recipe.
As we sat in the screened porch area we had an eerie sense that all the old folk (the ancients) were lined up to watch something special in the "dayroom". Most all of the boaters and sailors at Indiantown are 60+ - there wasn't a "young person" in sight! So, using your imagination you can probably envision how all the old faces were turned up to look beyond their bi-focals to watch the football game (sighing at the lopsided game), grimacing at the wild half-time show, and drooping by the end of the game (after all it was well past everyone's bedtime!). Yikes, as kind as the elder hostel group was we were eager to find some young people.
We celebrated our arrival in Stuart, Florida with the docking help of 4-5 kind boaters. No crash course this time! With strong winds, the current pushing us, and the cement wall of D dock we were more than delighted to have help. We had read on Active Captain reports of boats smashing into boats and/or D dock because of strong currents. As always, Wiley thanked them all for Boat US, our boat insurers.
While in Stuart at Sunset Bay we once again found a way to spend more money on the boat. Yes, it is a hole in the water into which we pour $$$$. We had a new winch installed that we use to raise the mainsail and also hoist the dinghy on deck. Our old winch had a prong broken inside and since they no longer make that winch we had to buy a lovely new one. John from Mack Sails came out to the boat and installed it. It turns out that John and Wiley are both Trekies, so they had a great time discussing Kirk, Bones Klingons etc, and exchanged the Vulcan "live long and prosper" salutation when John left. Since we name everything on the boat - our winch is now called BIG JOHN! It works wonderfully and Wiley is absolutely thrilled to have a new toy.
We timed our departure so that the current and wind would allow us to ease off the dock and since this was early in the morning we spent some time waiting around for bridges to open to begin our journey to West Palm Beach. We had an uneventful trip through the many bridges on our way to Old Port Cove at West Palm Beach.
This is probably our favorite marina. It is full of million dollar boats and even though we arrive in our little vessel looking a bit like a "Chinese honey barge" they make us feel like we have a multi- million dollar yacht.. They greet you at the dock, take your lines, give you a free bottle of wine, and offer lovely facilities as well as a fabulous restaurant - Sandpiper Cove.
We managed to eat our way through West Palm with 2 terrific dinners there as well as a stop at the French bistro down the road. We staged our departure from West Palm Beach and once again anchored near the inlet prior to "going outside" - sailing on the ocean rather than taking the ICW. This is where we have previously left to go to West End, Bahamas. However, this time we would not be leaving at 2:00 am but wait till after sunrise to begin our sail to Fort Lauderdale.
After a lovely motor sail we arrived at Los Olas Municipal Marina in downtown Fort Lauderdale. We were delighted to meet up with a sailor and friend, Dick of Dick and Margaret, whom we sailed with down the ICW in Virginia and North Carolina in 2011, and saw again in Marsh Harbor, Bahamas in 2013. It is so much fun to reconnect.
Los Olas Marina is 2 blocks from the beach. Ah, we have finally reached the wild celebrations of the young. Bikinis are pranced in, and Wiley frequently has to be told to close his open mouth. Wild music, flowing liquor, and limited clothing on beautiful (and a few not so beautiful) bodies is the new norm. Wiley managed to drink a "fish bowl" and a half (half of mine) of Margarita. We sat and watched the world go by. As I watched a young man jogging down the beach in an orange thong - a very tan bottom- I knew we were no longer in Indiantown.
Green became the color of our arrival and stay in Indiantown Marina. Twelve days ago we recovered our boat in Indiantown Marina from seven months in the burning heat and torrential rain of the fetid swamp and jungle that is called Florida. Les Miserable had been over-taken by the swamp. The deck was spinach green mixed with a black mildew. The ladder we had locked up had vine grown through and around it. A strong tug on the ladder resulted in a long length of vine following me as I dragged it to our boat. Ah, but how could we complain when everything at home was blinding bright white from all of the snow and deep freeze that lingers in Chicago-land.
The swamp jungle would completely take over in a short amount of time if things were left unattended. It truly is amazing to look around at all of the boats left tied down in the boatyard and see how algae, mold, mildew, plants and frogs have taken over. Yes, frogs! Kermit is right though it is not easy being green - "people tend to pass you over 'cause you're not standing out like flashy sparkles in the water or stars in the sky". However, it was not easy for me to pass over them, as they hopped out of and hid in every nook and cranny on the boat. (Additionally, dead frogs are gray not green - you can only imagine how I know that little fact (x's 6)! These are Florida tree frogs and they are about 2-3 inches in length. They are adorable when they are not on our boat. Southern Florida had an unusually wet summer and fall that resulted in this new adventure for us.
We were delighted to find jobs well done by the marina; our new bulkhead was firmly in place in the V and we now have a fuel gage on our engine panel. The new fuel gage means that we no longer need to completely clean out one of our large lockers in the back of the boat and drop over into the locker upside down with our head hanging in the locker to see the fuel gage. This is a special gift as you can imagine how checking the fuel levels could turn you a lovely yellow-green when you are out in this position in a rolling sea.
We have spent our time scrubbing the boat, cleaning the teak, unloading all of our supplies from the U-Haul truck we drove down, putting on the sails, shopping for and loading groceries, and taking in the Palm trees, green grass, and warmer weather. We continue to wait for a new battery, a new battery charger, new blocks for the main sheet and reefing lines, and a new winch. However, as you can only imagine this brings be back to more green $$$$.
We had a short visit with my father and Pat in Summerfield, Florida on our way down in the truck. Unfortunately, my father had a "kink" in his esophagus and had to have a procedure so that he could eat and keep food down. He is amazing - he was patient and then recovered quickly. He was home the same day as the procedure. Pat, as always, is a wonderful loving caretaker and made us feel so welcome even though they were dealing with this new health issue. Pat had us over for a lovely dinner and of course sent us off with special treats.
Two days ago I decided that I should take our anchor rodes out of the locker. I let out a scream as 30+ little frogs came jumping up! My hero, Wiley, came to my rescue and hosed the little mites down the anchor well drain - off they went swimming in the harbor only to return to the boat and begin to climb their way back up and onto the boat once again! My time was spent hosing them down the side of boat and "encouraging" them to find other homes. However, a couple of them had returned by the next morning to what they know as their home - but cruel woman that I am - they were once again deported (Wiley claims that I denied them due process by not giving them a deportation hearing ).
We have talked with our sons back home in Geneva and Algonquin and we were concerned about the dangerously cold weather they were experiencing. Sub-zero temps with wind chills in the -20 to -40 degree range! We "kindly" sent them a photo of us dining in Stuart by some Palm trees -they are a bit jealous and have requested that we send them no more photos with sunshine and stuff that is green surrounding us! Kermit sings... "When green is all there is to be - it could make you wonder why, but why wonder why. Wonder, I am green, and it'll do fine, it's beautiful and I think it's (where) what (we) I want to be."
Home at last. We were reunited with our son Brad, who had done a great job taking care of our house and the beasts who live within it - Barkley (the mutt) and Marmalade (the cat).
Merry taught her course in the EDU program at AU. She loves teaching fellow educators, and was in a great mood every day when she got home from class.
She waited too long to sign up for the class she wanted to take at the school of the Chicago Art Institute, and when she attempted to sign up the class was full. However, she was able to take an oil pastels class in St. Charles with her friend Nancy. She drew and painted all summer, and in my opinion some of her work was wonderful.
We both got together with friends - I with my few, Merry with her many.
Summer in Chicago is magnificent and we took full advantage. We went to five concerts in Millennium Park, of the Grant Park Symphony Orchestra. The concerts are both world class and free. We always bring bread, cheese, a bottle of Rhone, and because we are now old (we used to sit on a blanket) our lightweight folding chairs.
Chicago is our nation's greatest city for theater. We saw some great plays.The most moving was "The Pianist of Willesden Lane", a one- woman-show by Mona Golabek, a concert pianist with the Seattle Symphony Orchestra. In the play Mona Golabek portrays her mother, Lisa Jura, who grew up in Vienna with dreams of becoming a concert pianist. Her mother was Jewish, and just before World War II began; her parents were able to place Lisa on a kinder transport - part of an effort by British relief organizations to evacuate Jewish children from Germany. Lisa ended up at a home for Jewish refugee children in London. As Mona Golabek tells her mother's story she morphs into her mother - and plays the classical music her mother loved and played. Her mother even played an old upright piano in the basement of the youth home as bombs went off during the blitz. Lisa Jura's parents both died in a death camp, but because they had incredible courage, which enabled them to place their daughter on the train - the kinder transport- knowing they would never see her again, Lisa Jura lived, and I got to meet Lisa's daughter Mona Golabek after the play. I told her about my father, who fought in the U.S. Army infantry, through France and into Germany during the war.
We also saw Big Lake Big City at Looking Glass Theater with our friends Nancy and Terry, The Pullman Porter Blues with our friends Joan and her husband (Russ) my former law-school classmate. We saw Tribes at Steppenwolf - a play about a family's ability to listen and featuring a deaf actor. We went to famous Second City
(a wonderful gift from Sean and Tesia for Merry's birthday) - A Clown Car Named Desire, with both our sons and daughter-in-law. We enjoyed a production of Miss Saigon with our friend Ron. We also went and saw a marvelous production of Raisin In the Sun with Ron and Shira. We actually delayed leaving to go back to the boat in January so that we could see a preview performance of The Seven Guitars at Court Theater, one of the ten "century series" plays by the great August Wilson.
We bought Merry a road bike when we got back - a fast bike with clipless pedals and skinny tires. Merry went for 20 or 30 mile rides a couple times a week, and we rode our bikes together to Sycamore and Glen Ellyn. In the fall, we drove to Wisconsin to ride the Elroy-Sparta Bike Trail, which follows an old railroad right of way, going through three very long and dark railroad tunnels, one of them ¾'s of a mile long!
Merry flew out to Colorado with her friend Joan and spent time at her wonderful home in the mountains. They took daily long hikes in the mountains, relaxed in hot springs, and took in the beauty of the aspen leaves turning. Joana has done an amazing job putting finishing touches on her home - laying floors, making cabinets, and much more.
I completed my tenth Chicago Triathlon this year. I felt that I trained hard all summer, but I did very bad in the actual race. My bike time was a huge disappointment. Well, maybe I will do better in 2014. We both ran the Sycamore Pumpkin run and I did rather well in that race. Our neighbors also ran the race and did well.
We had some work done on Les Miserable over the summer. We also added wood flooring to the master bedroom and hallway of our house. Mark Rawksi, our daughter-in-law- Tesia's uncle, did a fabulous job. I had planned to take another course toward an MA in history at Roosevelt University fall term 2013. However, one of the repairs - replacing a bulkhead under the V-berth - was so expensive ( so were the home improvements) that I didn't feel that we could afford the tuition at R.U. I hope that I can get a semester done in Fall Term 2014.
So, we did a lot of cool things done between when we got home in June, and went back to the boat in January 2014. One of the coolest was going to the Chicago Symphony Ball concert in September, where we heard Ricardo Mutti conduct music by Verdi, including pieces from Nabucco and Othello, which I liked so much that I bought CD, boxed sets of both operas.
For me, the best times of all were Thanksgiving and Christmas at our house with our families. The turkey, the Christmas tree, all of us together like we pretty much are every year - these were the most spectacular hours of our time home.