After hard work both by us and Eric as well as his crew at the Indiantown Marina it was finally time to say goodbye. Although we were eager to get on with our journey we were going to miss Eric and his crew, because we had grown to like all of them as if they were old friends. After our goodbyes were said we departed and proceeded down the St. Lucie Canal and through the lock. Once we were through the lock our boat was in salty water again, - the St. Lucie River, a confusing collection of buoys where the St. Lucie River meets the north and south ICW channels. We had been through this before and encountered no difficulties, and after one bridge opening at Fort Pierce we decided to spend the night at a marina at Nettles Island. We found Nettles Island to be an insular, odd, but charming community consisting of small houses and mobile homes placed on odd parrallelogram lots. The island is a square with parallel and triangular lots. Golf carts and bicycles replace most automobiles in this community. The marina is welcoming with a small grocery store, shop, and restaurant. After one night we jumped back onto the ICW and north to Vero Beach.
We took up a mooring in the north field and spent more than a month there. We enjoyed spending time with the now new Vero Beach residents - Merle, Barb, and Mozart. During our stay we took a short trip home to see Wiley's play (Voices of the Middle Passage) produced at Elgin Community College. We were fortunate to have time to visit friends and family. We also had the opportunity to take in another play at Steppenwolf - "That Mother ****ing Hat".
Upon returning to Vero Beach we were surprised by a phone call from Ron and Mavis Barkley. Wiley and Mavis friendship goes back to 1968. We had a lovely dinner at their gorgeous home and dined at a beachside elegant restaurant -Colbalt. We were able to enjoy: a fine production of Les Miserable at the local theater, "Woody Sez" - a musical biography of the great Woody Guthrie, visited with our sister-in-law and her mother as we toured the Art Museum, took in the Art Fair - Under the Oaks with new friends Florrie and Lew, Wiley swam in the ocean in his triathlon wetsuit daily watched carefully by his new friend Murray the lifeguard, dined at outdoor cafes and mostly just thoroughly enjoyed being in Vero Beach. We waited for a weather window to move south to Lake Worth and then across to the Bahamas but were frustrated as one strong cold front after another swept over us. We had to use blankets and sleeping bags at night, and even used our alcohol heater at the mooring!
Indiantown is a very small Floridian swamp community and a large section of its population appears to be comprised of hard working lower - moderate income families including a large Hispanic population. Stuart is about 20 miles from Indiantown and is a large ocean -front city with a middle to upper middle- income population and is where I imagine most Indiantown people do their major shopping. However, if you live in Indiantown and cannot afford to travel often you do most of your shopping at the one grocery store, the Ace Hardware, the Family Dollar Store, and/ or the resale shop. The downtown (one major road) includes the Seminole Inn ( a lovely bed and breakfast) and a couple of restaurants including a small family owned Italian restaurant, a breakfast diner - Crackers and a Guatemalan/ Mexican restaurant.
There is a small group of people who live on their boats at the marina. The marina offers a large patio with many umbrellaed tables, a large screened in porch, and a small kitchen. There are two showers that offer "save water shower with a friend". In the screened porch and kitchen are two community televisions. Every week there is a weekly pot luck.
We met many wonderful people Indiantown who have a "down home" welcoming aura and as always met some interesting boaters. One couple we met do their own hunting and canning together and load their boat with canned moose, etc prior to sailing. They anchor out instead of using marinas. They are very independent couple and have been sailing the Bahamian waters for over 20 years including many in a small 25 foot sailboat. We met another couple who had a business that struggled during the recession. They invited us on a large 45 foot motor vessel - an Endeavor- that they were taking to the Miami boat show. They were struggling with how to recoup after the recession and anticipating what their retirement would look like. They were used to traveling to Europe, Greece, and the Caribbean. There are so many ways life is lived and being surrounded by different people remind us of what is most important - good health, family, friends, and of course fine wines.
So entertaining ourselves in Indiantown is obviously very different than being home with access to all the resources of Chicago. Additionally, we are most often surrounded by friends and family that politically, culturally, and professionally are like us. One experience that brought home how traveling broadens our experiences was when President Obama was being inaugurated. I was excited to see this happen and assuming that everyone would want to share in the excitement I ran to the screened in porch (as we had our sea trials the same morning) to see his induction. I was with another boater and she asked if the others seated in the porch were watching what was on the T.V. (an old sitcom) and they said no and we could change the channel as long as we didn't turn on the inauguration because "it isn't worth watching something we can't do nothing about!"
I watched excerpts later on my IPAD.
Time spent in Indiantown focused on preparing the boat, talking with new acquaintances about their boating experiences, visiting the three different restaurants, watching for 'gators', turtles, and seabirds. It is a simpler life and it feels right for a short time -the three weeks we spent was beyond that time. We are eager to get to Vero Beach where we look forward to going to the Art Museum, catching up with our friends Barbara and Merle, and going to the beach.
The saying goes, "a boat is a hole in the water into which you pour money" is a truism. We found that the cost of the new repower eliminated the possibility of having the yard sand and bottom paint.
This is a nasty - NASTY - no a really NASTY- job and we (aka Wiley) decided that we could do it! NO PROBLEM! The marina would help by moving our boat to the work yard and rent us power vacuum sanders. As we started this job we thought we could do a "make do" job since both of us scuba dive and scrubbing the bottom of the boat is something we can easily do. However, we were persuaded by the service department director and perfectionist - Eric- who observed that people will refuse to take the time to do the job right, and then end up spending the time doing the job over! We felt guilty about doing the "half-assed" job we had planned to do especially with Eric walking past our boat all the time. Just like with Eric's crew, NO ONE wants to do a bad job ON ANYTHING in front of Eric. Guided by his friendly advise we ended up removing ALL of the old bottom paint, priming the keel, adding a new barrier coat to the hull, and then 2 coats of a new "eco-friendly" bottom paint.
Of course it goes without saying that if you are going to be doing physical work that the temperature and humidity would be at least be challenging. I know if you are up north that the thought of just being outside in 80+ temperatures sounds great - but when you are sanding a boat in swampland it isn't really all that wonderful - it is in fact as I mentioned before - NASTY!
We donned our bottom paint scrubs - paper white jumpsuits, masks to keep from breathing this NASTY stuff, rubber gloves and covers for our shoes. Be sure to check out our photos. Then we held the vacuum sanders over head (weighing I am sure at least 20 pounds!!) as we sanded off the blue bottom paint, the old red bottom paint that Wiley had purchased as a bargain 20 years ago, and down to the white hull. It took us 4 days! We would dress for the occasion every day, sweat through the job, and at the end of the day go back to our hotel using our rental car and attempt to scrub off the blue stuff from inside our ears, in our hair, and between our teeth. (Hmmm - the cost of a hotel, rental car, and purchasing all of the supplies...) However, this was a treat compared to some others who were doing this work and living on their boats in the yard - which means using only Marina showers, climbing up and down a ladder to the boat, etc.
Now I have done this kind of boat prep for years - but not as a fine art under Eric's supervision. I am usually more that willing to do my share when it comes to working on the boat but I decided after I dropped the sander on my knee cutting through the paper jumpsuit and sanding a slice through my knee that this would be the very LAST TIME I will pour the money into the hole in the water rather than every do this NASTY job.
Deciding to replace our boats motor (repower is the nautical term) seemed a simple task. Images of attempting to cross the Gulf Stream without power left me with images of sailing in a gale and screaming over the wind at Wiley "I told you we should have gotten the new engine!" or becalmed for days on end in the hot sun eating canned tuna and screaming at Wiley with no one else to hear me, "I told you we should have gotten the new engine!" The king's ransom required to "repower" seemed a small consideration but it wasn't until Wiley had a nightmare where the engine died and a big ship was bearing down on us that we finally agreed that we would repower. Along with the advice of many we decided that our children would once again watch their pitiful inheritance slip out of their hands.
A number of things enter our minds upon returning to our boat with its new engine installed by Indiantown Marina.
Do these guys in the middle of swampland in the middle of Florida have any idea what they are doing?!!
Will the boat float? (A constant question!)
What the hell we were thinking spending all of this money!!
Returning to the boat in January and discovering the new engine did work - thanks to the wonderful mechanics and problem solving skills of Eric, Tim, Mark, Graham and Steve at the Indiantown Marina. The sea trial occurred on the canal and all went well. Eric captained the boat and revved the engine and shouted to Mark and Tim to read out the temperatures and detect any problems with the new engine. The bulkhead had been modified so that the new 21 hp three cylinder engine would fit in the space where our faithful old 18 hp "two banger" had served us for 22 years (they no longer make our old engine). There was a huge grin on all of their faces which broadened even more when they gave the reading for the quarterberth bulkhead temperature. The bulkhead had been modified to accommodate the extra length of the new engine. It turns out that the "cabinetry" to create room off the back of the bulkhead into the quarter berth was made from a brownie pie tin purchased in the dollar store! Eric had solved the problem of adding this piece of cabinetry by insulating it and painting it to match the woodwork - including creating the grain. It looks great! He is not only knowledgeable about all the mechanics and needs of boaters but is also very creative! Under power, the temperature measured at the brownie pie tin was only 85- indicating a cool running engine and a first class brownie tin! To our amazement, on the canal we attained 6.7 knots under power, a full knot faster than the best speed attainable with our old engine.
Two days driving the big U-Haul truck north, and we were home at last, united with our sons, Brad and Sean, our daughter-in-law Tesia and Brad's dog, Barkley, and Merry's beloved cat Marmelade. Nothing beats being with family and friends. We were fortunate to spend a wonderful summer, fall, and the winter holidays at home.
"Sweet Home Chicago" so far, we have never been anywhere that can compare to it. We tried to take full advantage. Merry took two drawing courses at the school of the Chicago Art Institute on Saturday mornings. We would ride the train to Chicago together and while Merry was in class, I would don my running shoes and shorts, open water swim, then run back to the Art Instituted, where we would have lunch together.
We went to three Grant park Symphony concerts at Millenium Park. Ricardo Muti opens every Chicago Symphony Orchesra season with a free concert at Millenium Park as well, and we attended but ended up getting drenched i a rainstorm. Not to worry! We were able to get tickets for the "official CSO opening at orchestra hall, just two weeks later. It was a thrill to join Tom (our brother-in-law) and his new wife Lauren. We sat in the "cheap seats" behind the orchestra. The acoustics are not perfect there, and you can see the back of many of the musicians but the conductor - Mutti - is almost looking right at you. Afterwards, we were able to - at no extra charge - to attend the Champaign reception for the CSO members and supporters.
We also attended a lot of incomparable chicago theater. We saw:
My Kind of Town, a new play about the Chicago Police torture scandal at Timeline Theater.
Jitney -with dear friends Connie and Tony, one of August Wilson's plays - at Court Theater.
Two Gentlemen of Verona a Shakespeare comedy - in Elgin with our dear friends Nancy and Terry. It was surprisingly funny!
Richard III in Oak Park's outdoor theater with dear friends Joan and Russ. It was magical watching a good production done in outdoor theater on a wonderful summer evening.
The Three Sisters at Steppenwolf Theater with dear friends Joana and Kay after a lovely Italian dinner at Manja Roma's.
Good People at Steppenwolf Theater - one of the greatest plays we have ever seen.
The Eastland - with Nancy and Terry - a musical about the Great Lakes passenger steamer which rolled over in the Chicago River in 1915, and drowned 83 people. In the lobby before the play we met an older gentleman who told us that he had come to see the play because HIS FAHER had died in the Eastland disaster when he was an infant! We saw him again after the play - which was a wonderous, powerful piece of theater - and asked him what he thought of it. He tearfully shared..."it was wonderful - there are no words for it - now I finally understand." Such is the power of Chicago Theater. The four of us went to the place on the Chicago River where the Eastland disaster happened. There is a riverfront bar there now, and we all hoisted a drink in memory of all who had perished on that bright summer morning in 1915!
I did the Chicago Triathlon again and felt that I had done lousy, because I was in the bottom third of the finishers. I vowed to train better and do better next year. We ran the Pumpkin run in Sycamore at the end of October.
I mention all this about what we did after we went home, to console anyone in the Chicago area who feels any envy contemplating our good fortune in being able to voyage on Les Miserables to the Bahamas. People who live in the Chicago area live in the greatest place on earth. One day, both we and our little Les Miserables will be returning to our home port in Illinois.
Our last stay on Lake Worth had been at a fine (but somewhat expensive) marina, where Tiger Woods keeps his huge motor yacht - part of an exclusive gated community.
This time, we spent tow nights with the other plebeians (i.e., cruising sailors) at anchor in the murky waters of Lake Worth. To go ashore, you take your dinghy under a highway bridge, ground it, get out and wade across a few yards of muddy bottom to a big storm water outlet with a grill, you chain your dinghy to this grill. You have to lock it up because both our cruising guides and other boaters had warned us that thefts of dinghys and outboard motors, frequently occur here. There are no plans to install a proper dinghy dock. This is a place where cruising boats, are merely tolerated, rather than welcomed.
Nonetheless, assuming that your dinghy does not get stolen, the anchorage is very convenient. It is just a short walk to 3 or 4 good restaurants, and we had a wonderful lunch at a "French bistro" just a block from the dinghy landing. Across from the "bistro" is a big Publlix grocery store, and there is a West Marine less than a half of a mile away.
We didn't linger, first because we were both eager to get home, and second because after the beauty of the Bahamas, Florida had lost much of its allure. At 0930 on our second morning on Lake Worth, I pulled the anchor up and we got underway. We made our way down the channel to the ICW without running aground, and were soon on the ICW on our way north. The day was notable principally for all the bridge openings. Most of the bridges had 'restricted openings", which means that they do not open "on demand", but only at specified times. However, we experienced no great difficulty - it was a weekday, so boat traffic was light, and with the sole exception of the ICW near Jupiter Inlet, there was very little current. One by one, we got through all the bridges - Parker Bridge, PGA Bridge, Donald Ross Bridge, Indiantown Bridge, Jupiter Federal Bridge, the 707 Bridge, and finally, Hole Sound Bridge. By 1510, we had our anchor down on Peck Lake, which felt good because we heard an emergency weather warning of an inbound storm just as we anchored.
There is a strip of land which is maybe just 500 feet across that separates Peck Lake from the Atlantic Ocean, and we could see a sad derelict sailboat, about the size of Les Miserables, lying on her side on the eastern shore of Peck Lake. I wanted to go exploring but Merry didn't feel well, and wanted to just rest on the boat. I decided to swim over to the wrecked sailboat - about 500 meters - and then walk across to the oceanside, and swim in the surf. I swam over to the wrecked sailboat, and crossed to the ocean, but there was a 3-4 foot surf, the water was all brown and stirred up, and I was afraid that a shark would see a foot or a hand in the murky water and mistake it for a fish, and bit it off! Since I would have been all alone if this did occur these dark thoughts caused me to cut my ocean swim short, cross back to Peck Lake and swim back to the boat, where Merry - even though she didn't feel well - had cooked a wonderful dinner.
We slept in the next morning, not getting the anchor up and underway until 1040. It was then a long and complicated day. We navigated using the chartplotter, and the "active captain" chart on Merry's I-Pad. Merry picked out buoys and markers with the binoculars. at 1132 we reached the "crossroads" a complicated area where the ICW meets the St. Lucie Inlet and the St. Lucie River, and there are red and green buoys all over the place marking the various channels. By having the wisdom to instantly foollow any direction or instruction Captain Merry gave me, I was able to turn onto the St. Lucie River and stay in the navigation channel as we passed under the Roosevelt Bridge, the Palm City Bridge, and the I95 Bridge. At 1525 we locked through. The lockmaster is very friendly, and lowered lines to each of us, which we held on to forward and aft, as our boat was lifted 12 feet. The timing worked out well for us, since the lock has only a limited number of openings each day due to low water levels caused by the drought.
We were now on the St. Lucie Canal, which is as easy to navigate as the Erie Canal, entirely lacking the patches of shoal water which make navigation on the St. Lucie River "interesting". At 1735 we went under the Indiantown Railroad bridge, and at 1800 we turned into the narrow short channel of Indiantown Marina, where we tied up at the fuel dock. After more than 2,000 miles and eleven months, for now our voyage was over.
The driving trip home still remained...renting a U-haul, unpacking EVERYTHING on the boat, packing the truck, preparing the boat for the summer stay on the hard in Indiantown (tinfoiling the windows, putting in damp rid containers, wiping the interior down with bleach, making sure that nothing would be caught in a hurricane blow, strapping the boat down, covering all the electronics with netting, etc. was completed as we stayed at a lovely bread and breakfast - The Seminole Inn in Indiantown. We definitely needed a room with air conditioning and appreciated collapsing into a real bed after our "workouts" at the marina to prepare for our trip home. The interior of the boat must have been well over 100 degrees and in the swamp...the humidity challenges you to just try to keep on working. While working on unloading we see a 'gater' swim along side the boat and also see a couple of manatees. We hit the road, stopped to visit with Merry's father and his wife Pat inb Summerfield, Florida, stopped in Chattanooga the next night, and then drove on home to enjoy our time home with family and friends.