No Agenda

05 February 2015 | Florida?!!!!
02 September 2014 | Florida Keys
09 August 2014 | Florida Keys
13 July 2014 | Sarasota/ Venice/ Ft. Myers/ Naples/ Marathon
25 June 2014 | Panama City/Clearwater/St. Petersburg
06 June 2014 | Panama City, FL
07 May 2014 | Oyster Bay/Pensacola/Panama City
29 April 2014 | Jean Lafitte/Marsh Island/Biloxi/Gulf Shores (LA)
22 April 2014 | Kemah/Bolivar Roads/Sabine Pass/Lake Charles/Morgan City

It's Not Over "Till It's Over"

05 February 2015 | Florida?!!!!
Ray
Ray and Sandra’s Sailing Adventure
January Update

In early December, we were fortunate to be invited to be on the race committee for the Star Sailing League 2014 season championship in Nassau. We had earlier found that this regatta was being held in Nassau and I contacted the Nassau Yacht Club and offered to help.

This sailing series includes a series of regattas around the world during the year. The top twenty teams overall based on each regatta’s score are invited to sail in the final championship in Nassau. All travel expenses are paid for the invited twenty teams and the boats, hotel, and meals are all provided for the competitors by the regatta sponsor. Plus the teams were competing for $200,000 in total prize money.

Sandra and I were assigned to the leeward mark/rescue boat for the four day regatta. The format was for three days of fleet racing with all twenty boats competing. On the final day only the top ten boats raced in the first race of the day. Then for the second race of that day, only the top seven boats from the previous race continued. For the final race of the event only the top four boats from the previous race competed. The winner of that final race, with only four boats competing, was the winner of the regatta and awarded the $100,000 first prize. The event was live-streamed on the internet and carried in a few countries on live TV. Dennis Conner provided some of the commentary and handed out the trophies and awards.

The sailing ability of these teams was amazing and the action was intense. Every boat was right on the line at the starting gun, and the mark roundings, jibes, and tacks were smooth and efficient. On the downwind legs, the mast is canted forward an extreme and the crew stands right next to the mast. Then the skipper and crew continually work together to pump, rock, and change the hull angle to try to surf each wave. It was amazing to watch these crews catch a wave and pass three or four boats before their ride ended. Then another nearby boat would catch the next wave and pass them back.

Our position at the leeward mark gave us a great view of the boats as they headed toward us. We would typically set the start line, then a leeward gate after the start, and then patrolled the lower half of the course to see if anyone needed assistance. The first day of the regatta was the windiest, and we had one boat break a mast, another one broke a tiller, another one broke a jib sheet, and one boat broke a mainsheet block. Except for the broken mast, the other boats were able to make repairs between races with the help of the support boat and continue racing. Each competitor and every mark on the course also had a gps transponder, which was used to generate a real-time course virtual race monitor for the TV and live-streaming audience. It was fun to watch the replays of the races each evening and recall the boats that did well in the races that day.

The last race of the regatta came down to teams from the US (Mark Mendelblatt), a Brazilian team, a Swedish team, and a team from Poland. The Brazilian team had appeared to have the best downwind boat speed. The team from Poland was very fast on the upwind legs. The Swedish team was the current Star world champion, and the US team had been very consistent in all conditions. The final race was decided in the last fifty yards of the last leg when the US team expertly surfed a wave to pull ahead of the Swedish boat and win by a boat length.

The trophy presentation and awards were in the Olympic style of raising the flags of each country’s team on the podium and playing the national anthem of the winner. Following the flag portion, each of the podium teams were given large bottles of Moet Champaign which they sprayed on the other teams, themselves, and any spectators nearby. The Swedish team was observed to be doing more drinking than spraying from the bottles.

After the regatta ended, we began our preparations for departing Nassau and heading for the Exhuma Islands. We stocked up on supplies at the nearby market for an extended trip. We knew that these islands were fairly light on places for provisioning, so we loaded as many of the necessities as the boat would store, topped up the fuel tank, filled the water tanks, and watched the weather. The winds were forecast to increase out of the north with an upcoming frontal passage, and then return to a more typical easterly direction and speed in a few days.

Later that night, after the winds had increased to about 20-25 out of the north (in the marina), we heard quite a bit of noise and yelling on the dock next to ours. The next morning we noticed a fairly large sailing vessel named the Yankee Clipper had arrived the previous night and was probably the source of what we had heard. Sandra wandered over to their vicinity and visited with them. They had departed from the Boston area and sailed to Nassau with only a few passengers and a minimal crew to relocate the boat to the Bahamas for future island chartering. The passage had gone well until the recent frontal passage when strong winds had created fairly big waves for the previous day before their arrival. The two passengers described the joys of seasickness with remarkable detail. They also indicated that several of the crew members were similarly suffering and they couldn’t wait to arrive at Nassau and escape from the clutches of the angry ocean. They had docked with most of the crew “under the weather” so that the remaining crew had their hands full with the dockage. They apparently had recovered by the next morning and were readying the boat for its next charter. We watched them depart the next day with their next group of sailors.

After the frontal winds died down and returned to an easterly direction, we departed Nassau headed for Highbourne Cay, our next destination. This island is in the northern portion of the Exhuma Island chain and appeared to be a good destination. Just north of Highbourne Cay is Allen Cay, which is known for its numerous iguanas. Apparently these iguanas are known for their practice of coming out of the brush onto the sand beach when boats approach. They then expect to be fed by the people that come to the beach, and have been known to become somewhat aggressive if food is not provided. We decided to bypass this place since our supplies of iguana kibble were minimal.

As we approached Highbourne Cay we decided to anchor for the first night just outside of the island’s cove and then spend a couple of nights inside the cove at the marina. A short time after we anchored, we noticed a small brown and white bird had landed on the boat. This bird seemed quite inquisitive, not afraid of us, and willing to accept small pieces of banana and small crackers. This bird stayed on the boat for an hour or so, before departing back to the nearby island. We’ve had similar experiences a couple of times before, there must be something about sailboats that birds like.

The next day, we hoisted anchor and motored the short distance to the protected Highbourne Cay Marina. One of the many friends that we had met in Nassau, (Chris-the owner of the Nassau Cricket Club Restaurant), told us to say hello to his friends Kevin and Caroline at the Highbourne Marina. They were the managers of the marina, restaurant, and the villas at this resort. This marina was a great place to spend a couple of days with a nice restaurant, excellent docks, some provisions at their store, and wonderful beaches and nearby reefs. We had an enjoyable couple of days exploring the area. The second day we met Kevin and Caroline (who had been in Nassau the day we arrived) and Kevin gave us a tour of the entire island, including the villas that can be rented for a few thousand dollars per night (and are often frequented by celebrities).

The island is owned by the Bacardi family, who maintain a family compound on the north side of the island. They have developed the south side of the island with the marina, restaurant, and the dozen villas that can be rented. They have built a water purification plant, power generator, beach access roads, and maintain the facility wonderfully. It’s a great place to visit and enjoy the crystal clear water and beaches.

There are a good number of very big fishing yachts that visit the marina and either head east to fish the deep waters of the Atlantic, or west to the shallow waters of the Exhuma Banks. These fishing boats based at the marina have resulted in a continuous group of sharks that congregate at the end of the dock where the fish cleaning station is located. There is a sign at the end of this dock that warns people of the sharks in the water - not that they can’t easily be seen. I think that I would heed this warning. There may be some mean ones mixed in with the nurse sharks.

After spending a couple of days at Highbourne Cay, we departed for our next stop at Normans Cay. This island was owned in the 70’s and 80’s by a drug smuggler who built a runway and several houses on the island. Today the runway is only used by visitors to the area and a small resort development is being built on the south end of the island. We anchored for a few days in Normans’ Cut, on the south side of the island. This is near the runway and the proposed development, and even a plane wreck from the smuggling days of the island was visible during low tide near our anchorage. This anchorage was well protected and provided a great place to hang out for a few days.


After spending a few days at Norma’s Cay, we headed a little further south to a place called Warderick Wells Cay. This island is located within the Bahamas National Sea Park. It is a beautiful spot with crystal clear water, beautiful beaches, no development or houses, except for the housing for the park staff, and plenty of places to relax or explore. We stayed several days in this idyllic setting.

As we relaxed in this location we decided to change our plans from continuing south in the Bahamas and instead planned to return to south Florida. We had left the Florida Keys approximately two months prior and our options for the upcoming winter were to either continue south in the Bahamas, and mostly anchor in the fairly remote Exhuma Islands, or return to south Florida and spend the winter there at a marina. We decided to return to Florida and continue to explore the Bahama Islands from that base area. Our plans are now to sail to the northern Bahama Islands (Abacos, Grand Bahamas, and others) from Florida in the spring and early summer time and then spend most of the hurricane season in our Florida base.

We reversed our course back to Highbourne Cay, then to Nassau, then Bimini, and then to south Florida. We had a great sail back across the Bahama Banks and the Gulf Stream. Once again our weather windows were great, with awesome sailing conditions and great weather.

We found a very nice marina in Hollywood, which is just south of Fort Lauderdale. We also plan to spend some of our time in Austin while we have the boat in south Florida. So you will probably see us from time to time around AYC in the coming months. We look forward to seeing our friends in Austin when we are there and also enjoying life on the boat when we are staying on it in Florida. We’re planning to try the lifestyle of mixing cruising from our base in south Florida and spending a little time also in Austin to maintain our land roots. We’ll see how this works for a while and are looking forward to splitting time between Florida and Texas.


Chapter 10 - Bimini, Nassau and the Races!

08 December 2014
Ray and Sandra
CHAPTER 10 - BIMINI, NASSAU and the RACES!

Yes, I, Sandra, took this awesome photo of Ray's "first catch" on the way to Nassau. Lovely Albacore that we "pardoned." (Ahem,,, I do think this is worthy of publication in National Geographic or one of those fishing magazines!)

Ray's Commentary for the Austin Yacht Club:

(Skip to Sandra's Notes if you've already read this.....)

We left the Florida Keys a few weeks ago and sailed across the Gulf Stream to Bimini, in the Bahamas. We stayed in Bimini for three days, and then left for Chub Key, on the other side of the Great Bahama Banks. Our sail over the Banks was in a port reach in 15-18 knots of wind. These conditions allowed us to cross the ninety five miles or so in about twelve hours, which was great progress. Many of the cruising guides recommend anchoring in the open, but shallow, waters of the Banks since it's unusual to sail across in one day, but we sailed all the way to Chub Key and anchored in the lee of that island after a long day of sailing. The water was never more than twenty five feet deep over the Banks, and was the clear aqua marine color that we had become accustomed to in Bimini. We even caught a small albacore tuna and a three foot barracuda while sailing across the Banks, but Sandra decided they should be pardoned and we returned both to the water.

The next day we hoisted anchor and set our course for Nassau. The island view is dominated by the new Baha Mar resort on the west end and the Atlantis resort complex on the east end, near where we would stay. Nassau is also home to one of the largest cruise ship docks in the Caribbean/Southern Atlantic with up to nine ships docking at a time. As we approached, we took photos of these huge ships as we sailed past on our way to our dock. The passengers were waving and probably commented on how "small" we were.
In Nassau Ray reunited with a friend that he hadn't seen in over 45 years. His family hosted an exchange student from Switzerland when he was in high school. He (Bruno) spent his entire senior year of high school with his family in Missouri. After finishing his university studies he began a career in banking and subsequently located to Nassau. We'd been communicating via email and phone for the previous few months and were looking forward to seeing each after all these years. Bruno called us as he was watching us sail into the harbor, he met us at the dock as we tied up, and we enjoyed a wonderful reunion after all of these years.

We settled into our slip that afternoon and enjoyed the calm relaxation that happens after the conclusion of each leg of our voyage. Later that evening, we were treated to a great fireworks display from the Atlantis resort across the channel from our dock.

Bruno, and his wife Ena, have been wonderful hosts and guides to the Island of Nassau. One of the places that we've visited is the John Watlings distillery. This distillery is named after the pirate John Watling, who lived in the Bahamas in the late 1600's in Charles Town (which later became Nassau). The distillery produces three types of rum, based on the time the rum is aged. Our tour guide, Bryant, was obviously trained as a guide by Chris Rock. He told jokes, was very animated in his presentation, and enjoyed his job as the rum ambassador (maybe rumbassador?). One of the tour aspects was a sniff test of the different aged rum types where you placed you nose in a hole on the side of a small barrel and inhaled the aromatic vapors until the guide (Bryant) told you that it you had inhaled enough. He sometimes waited a long time to give the signal.

Another Nassau event that our friends took us to enjoy was a festival called Junkanoo. This Carnival-like festival is celebrated in the Bahamas during the holiday season. The main festival parades are just after Christmas, but we found that there was a preliminary festival parade in downtown Nassau while we were visiting. We made our way to a good viewing spot along the main street, and a short while later, we heard the unmistakable thunder of dozens of large drums being played with tremendous volume. Even though the parade was several blocks away, we felt the percussion of the drums in our spot. Bruno told us that the drums that we were hearing were actually full-size oil barrels with a goat skin stretched over one end and the other end open. The sound that twenty or so of these made was impressive.
We then saw the parade heading our direction. The first revelers in each group were a group of dancers. Following them in each group was a number of individuals playing musical instruments ranging from trumpets, trombones and French horns, to cowbells, tambourines, and various ingenious combinations of items that made loud noise when beaten, blown into, or shaken. Following this part of each group was usually a row of tubas, and then came the oil barrel drums. These drums were last only in placement, certainly not in volume.

Bruno explained that the various groups in Nassau that participate in the Junkanoo parade compete in categories against each other and are judged for dancing choreography, musical ability, costume design and presentation, and of course, loudness. He explained that the November festival is not as large as the festival in late December, and that they weren't wearing the costumes that would appear later. He also said that both the number of participants and spectators would increase enormously in the December parades. We had a great time watching the groups dance, play, and thunder past us.

The cold fronts that have been marching across the US recently have also been impacting the weather here. The temperatures have been significantly lowered with each passing front, such that the daily high following each front has only been 75 degrees or so. We've been surviving fine in these frigid temperatures; however these fronts have also brought very strong north winds for several days.

We also discovered that a major sailboat racing regatta was scheduled to be held in Nassau during our stay. The Star Sailing League has held their annual season finale and championship in Nassau each year. This is an international professional racing circuit with such accomplished sailors as Augie Diaz, Mark Mendelblatt, George Szabo, Torben Grael, and Robert Scheidt competing, and Dennis Connor will be providing the color commentary. They will be racing in the Star sailboat and competing for $200,000 in prize money. There are twenty teams that have qualified for the finals and over twenty Olympic medals have been won by the sailors that will be competing. We decided that this opportunity was too good to miss and, through Ray's local friend Bruno, contacted the race manager at the Nassau Yacht Club to see if they needed any volunteers. We have been invited to assist on the race committee for this regatta and have been assigned to the leeward mark chase boat/rescue boat for the regatta, and hope to have some great photos for next month's article. I'm looking forward to watching some great racing in the anticipated blustery conditions on these overpowered racing sailboats.

We plan to enjoy Nassau until the regatta is complete, and also hope that the normal wind conditions appear by the end of this event. Then we'll head to one of the Exhuma Islands that are only about 45 miles away and sail behind the protection on the lee of these islands as we work our way south. We have on our plans to visit the swimming pigs of Staniel Key, the Thunderball Grotto (where they filmed portions of that movie), a couple of uninhabited keys that have been recommend by other sailors, and then stay a while in Georgetown, a popular harbor for sailing cruisers.
Just a reminder that you can follow us on our satellite tracker at:
https://share.delorme.com/RayShull

SANDRA's NOTES ON NASSAU AND THE RACES!

Ray's friend Bruno and his wife Ena were so kind to show us around the entire island. They've lived here for 40 years and we could not have had better tour guides or a couple that truly made us feel like one of their own. Ena (pronounced like Tina), didn't allow us to cook dinner for about an entire week. Her specialty, which is amazing, is Bahamian Chicken Souse. Below is the Souse recipe. (FYI she cooks the chicken and removes the fat from the broth so it's VERY healthy). Use the chicken with the bones and remove them as you eat or just use boneless dark chicken. She also sells her souse by the container on December 5 and 6, and had about 60 orders weeks in advance!! She went really lite on the peppers for us, which is good because I don't handle the spicy stuff well. One thing to keep in mind when eating Bahamian food is they like it HOT! In the Bahamas people eat this for breakfast with a bun or some other bread or for a quick energy "pick-me-up later in the day."
Here's the recipe:

Chicken Souse (rhymes with house)
2 lbs of chicken (preferably wings or drumsticks)
4 chopped potatoes
2 sticks chopped celery
1 or 2 diced onions
1/2 cup allspice corns
1 or 2 bird peppers
salt to taste
2 limes cut in half (she also uses sour oranges if they're available)

Cooking instructions:
In a large pot bring chicken to boil for approx.. 10 minutes, then strain. Return chicken to pot, fill pot half full with water and return to boil. Add potatoes, celery, onion, bird pepper(s), allspice, salt and lime juice or halved limes. Boil until potatoes are done, stirring occasionally.
Final cooking time 30-35 minutes.
Prior to serving add more lime if desired. Serves 4

THE RACES!

The races were a BLAST. We arrived each morning at 9am to meet Jimmy Lowe, our boat captain who is a long-time Star sailor, instructor, and......race car driver. I mentioned "Race Car Driver" but I should add that Jimmy competed INTERNATIONALLY in sport car racing as well as sailboat racing. We wondered how he went from competing at 120mph to 8 knots. Jimmy noted that it's not the speed; it's the challenge of maneuvers and strategy. So, it's not the actual speed but the aspect of "who's going faster and who's going to get to the finish first."

As most who love the intensity and competition in any sport, I noticed that Ray could certainly relate to, and appreciate, these comments.

As we followed the Star Sailors and the US team it was often noticed that the key to finishing first is being able to "tactically" work with the wind and the waves, while continually maintaining the upper hand over the maneuvers of the other boats.

Back to our role:

Basically we had front row seats and "important" jobs. Jimmy and Ray actually handled the "important" stuff, but I was able to observe and pitch in whenever I could. They had to set leeward marks, hail or "chase away" possible intruders (boats that were close to aimlessly sailing or motoring into the middle of the race course), rescue and deliver parts (tiller extensions, etc.) to various racers who happened to break something, and then quickly respond to just about everything else the Race Committee Officials asked of us. We also had the Signal Flags and a Course Board with dry-erase markers and a LOUD whistle to let the fleet know when the Race Committee made course changes or called for a general restart.

I actually got to fly the course change flag, Ray drove and Capt. Jimmy held the Board with the coordinates in the final race as we sped in front of the racers. (So Ray and I achieved our own 30 SECONDS of fame in an internationally televised sailboat race!)

We were literally "right there" as the US team of Mark Mendelblatt and crewman Brian Fatih crossed the finish mark.

The awards ceremony and dinner at the Nassau Yacht Club was great fun and very festive and allowed us to become more acquainted with others at the yacht club and the sailing event. Of course, as usual, all were friendly and welcoming. In fact, as we were able to converse with others, a resounding comment was a jubilant "OH! So you are that couple that just "showed up" to help!" "We heard about you!" They meant this in a very complimentary way and most didn't know we were from Texas and that we had sailed our Beneteau all the way from Galveston in April. We provided "boat cards" to several of our new acquaintances, and now have added at least a dozen more friends from Nassau to Norway to Greece to our list of who we MUST keep in touch with!

Chapter 9 - Marathon to Bimini, Bahamas

11 November 2014
Ray and Sandra
Chapter 9 – Marathon to Bimini

FOUR months in Marathon, well, you just have to be the type to seriously relax. I can relax but have been anxious to head for the Bahamas.
After extending our rental car (about 4 times) we finally chose to depart Marathon on November 7. Great choice with a full moon waiting to guide our way after sunset. On the bittersweet side, both Ray and I will truly miss Buddy, the marina cat. I can see him now, resting at our slip, waiting for us to return from a dive trip……..

A little more about Marathon. I can write the following since I’m out of the country and don’t need to be worried about retaliation for posting this. (Ralph, referenced below, owns the closest liquor store – important - and the fitness center right next to it).

Marathon is a wonderful place with lots of “color” and has some incredibly salacious stories of crime and drama. Approximately 10 stickers that looked like labels have been placed on the Old Seven rails that read:

Ralph Lusignano didn’t like Schmitt
Ralph Lusignano ordered the “hit”
Now Dennis Zecca sits and rots
And Ralph has got to pay him lots

Basically, two powerful guys in Marathon hated each other for several reasons – one stole the wife/girlfriend from the other. One has a liquor store and sits on the Board of Planning Commission and wouldn’t let his rival open a store close to his. So, (rumor has it), guy number one hires a former Coast Guard Commodore who runs a boat yard to arrange a “hit” on the guy he hates. So, brilliantly, the Commander hires a strategically placed FBI informant (who was originally looking into drug smuggling) for 10K to do the job. FBI had been investigating and approached the “victim”, told him about the dastardly plans and then they set up a phony “hit.” They used makeup and photo-shopped a picture of the “victim” lying on the ground in front of his house with fake blood all over him and the informant brings it to the Commander. When the Commander was pulling out of the Marina/boatyard to get the cash to pay the hit man his money the FBI nailed him. To this day as the Commodore sits in jail he will not disclose names or any other information. Hence, according to the poem, “Ralph is paying him lots” (and probably will not to try to have him “silenced” as long as he keeps his mouth shut).

That was just one of the bigger stories. There are more………………too many to cover here.

In a supposedly unrelated issue, the city council is considering approval of a firing range to be built in Marathon. I’m wondering, “do they really think they need one of those?”

We’ve met so many GREAT people (I know I say that all the time…..) There are wonderful people everywhere and so much to learn from them.

Just a bit more.

Marathon has four major stores. K-Mart, Publix, Winn Dixie and Beall’s Outlet. Oh, and the Payless Shoe Store where I bought the cheap walking shoes that nearly destroyed my feet. Key West is the place to go for better shopping. Found a Foot Locker store and purchased a really good pair of Asics and good shoes are worth the price to save your feet. (If you’re trekking the 4.2 miles every day on the Old 7 Bridge you really need the good shoes).

We really got into our own routine here. Trivia nights at the Marathon Yacht Club and more trivia nights at Cabana Breeze in Key Colony. We did very well at some and totally stunk at others. The classic was the Disney Movie Category at Cabana Breeze. Ray, myself and Barbara were a team that night. We knew absolutely none of this stuff. So when they asked “which princess had as her signature song “A Whole New World?” We had blank stares on our faces. Three seconds later, Ray, in all his creativity, blurts out BRUCE JENNER! We submitted the incorrect answer but the entire bar howled when the trivia director decided to give us kudos and read that one aloud.

My birthday was late October and I fulfilled my quest to “Eat a Lionfish” to help save the reef. It was superb. (If they want people to eat and kill more Lionfish they probably shouldn’t charge an outrageous price for them in the restaurants).

Preparing for Bimini

Before we set out, we had to see our good friend Dianne one more time. We first met Dianne at the Marathon Yacht Club. Dianne had cruised all over the Caribbean for over four years with her husband Phil on their Gozzard yacht and even had a villa in Antigua which she still re-visits. Dianne pretty much knows all the who, what and where all over the islands – especially the places to have a REALLY good time! She kept extensive logs and she shared fantastic stories of the social life with the “yachties.” As she began providing names of people that we must meet on the islands and so many great tips Ray had to take notes. We miss you already, Dianne, and look forward to seeing you again in the islands!

On To Bimini: My notes and what Ray wrote for the Austin Yacht Club Telltale Newsletter

My brief notes: Brown’s Marina is excellent and is not as expensive as others for water, electricity, etc. You will most likely be greeted by Humphrey, he is a gruff sounding gent but is smart and has a good heart. A very large motor yacht pulled in beside us with their Boston Whaler runabout in tow. Humphrey said “The Captain doesn’t know what he’s doin, Man. Then I come over on my day off to help and they think they own Brown’s Marina.” “They don’t even say hello.”

Cordero at the end of the dock will sell you fresh conch and lobster tails that he catches himself. Roberts Grocery is the place for produce and many other things. The Big Game Club is our restaurant choice. Comfortable chairs, three tv’s , great conch salad and many other entrees. Oh, and as Dianne told us, don’t turn down the offers from the other yachties for happy hour at the end of the dock. We enjoyed the company of four other couples also “living the dream” last night. (Dianne, thanks so much for the advice on stocking up on appetizers. We did not show up empty-handed!) Planned to head for Chub Cay this morning but we’re going to the beach today and will head out tomorrow.

Ray’s notes for the Austin Yacht Club Telltale Newsletter

Bimini, Bahamas, Buzzards, The Breeze, and a Baby Manatee
Ray and Sandra’s Sailing Adventure – November Update

In this update of our cruising excursion, we left the Florida Keys and sailed across the Gulf Stream to Bimini, in the Bahamas. However, before we left the Keys, we experienced a few more adventures that we’ll remember from our visit in Marathon, Florida.

One of the most unusual events occurred on one of our frequent walks on the original section of the Seven Mile Bridge. This section is closed to vehicles and provides a great four mile hike to and from the east end to where they have removed a section of the bridge (part of this section was actually blown up in the movie “True Lies”). As we approached the turn-around point of the bridge, we noticed a large number of big, black birds soaring around the small island that exists there, called Pigeon Key. We knew they were too big to be pigeons and they appeared to fly similarly to Turkey Vultures, or buzzards. As we came closer, we noticed that they were indeed buzzards, and there were hundreds of them roosting on the island and soaring above it. As we rounded the slight curve near the end of the bridge, we saw that there were also hundreds of these birds sitting on the bridge guard rails and the pavement in our path.

We slowly continued, not sure if we had stumbled into a remake of the movie “The Birds” (using buzzards), or these birds were just waiting for someone to come close enough so that they could
change their eating habits from scavenger to hunter. Undaunted, we walked closer thinking that they were just having a convention, and after all, we had the right of way on the bridge. They started flying off only when we were within about fifty feet of them, and just a few at a time. The sound of their wings flapping was clearly audible, and then we noticed that buzzards in this large number also brought a noticeable smell to their roosting spot. Sandra asked “could the odor come from what they eat?” We think so.

We continued to the end of the bridge, turned around and expected that we would be running this buzzard gauntlet again, but they waited until we passed by before reclaiming their roost. Apparently they migrate through this part of the Keys in the late fall each year. A local sailing magazine even included a harrowing account of a sailor who was unfortunate the previous year to have his boat used as a temporary buzzard roost when he was a few miles offshore. He was sailing alone to Key West and there was nothing he could do that would convince the several hundred buzzards that landed on his boat and his dinghy to leave. He even called the Coast Guard and asked if they could assist him.

They arrived (I think they first thought the guy was delusional) and tried using a water canon to convince the birds to leave, but all the birds did was hang on tighter to whatever resting place they were in. This resulted in claw holes in his bimini cover, dinghy cover, and mainsail cover and deep scratches in his wood. Finally he was able to sail close enough to land to provide an alternate roosting place for his “passengers” they finally left and it took him several hours with a bucket and brush to clean his boat of the stench.

The wildlife encounters became more enjoyable a few days later. I was outside in the cockpit working on some boat projects, when I heard what sounded like a whooshing sound in the water next to the boat.

As I peered over the side to see what it was, I was face to face with a baby manatee and its mother. They had apparently swum into the marina area searching for food and fresh water. There was a boat several slips down from ours that had a significant amount of algae growing on its hull (think thick green whiskers about a foot long all around this boat). It appeared that the manatees cleaned off a little of the algae. I don’t know if they liked it, but if they could be trained to do a thorough job, I think a whole new business opportunity could be at hand.

I called Sandra to come look at these adorable creatures, and they swam over to her and seemed as interested in her and she was in them. They swam around the slip area for about thirty minutes, with the little one more curious and exploring the marina, and the mother more interested in watching us.

Shortly before we were planning to leave the Keys, we made a quick road trip to Austin to return my truck and to haul some items back that we had on the boat. As we prepared for the trip, I noticed on the AYC web site that we would be in Austin for the weekend of the Governors Cup Regatta. I mentioned this to Sandra on long drive to Austin, and we decided that we would see if some of our sailing friends in Austin would need a couple of enthusiastic, but maybe a little rusty, crew for the race. I called Doug Casey first to see if he was planning to race, and he said he might but wasn’t certain yet. He contacted Steve Frick after we talked, and Steve called me and said he was racing and would like to have us on his boat. This sounded great and we looked forward to sailing once again on Lake Travis.

On the first day of the regatta, we had nearly all of the ingredients of a great sailing weekend, a great boat (Corsair F 27), great friends to sail with (Steve and Carol), water in the Lake (some), warm weather, and some competitive boats in our class. About the only item missing was the wind. It was another one of those “just after a cool front” days where the wind hadn’t decided to return to its normal direction. However, the race committee exercised some good patience, and after a few hours of delay we were able to start a race. Before the start Steve asked me if I would like to drive the boat for the races.

After the appropriate amount of politely declining, I enthusiastically agreed to take my favorite position on a racing sailboat. At the start we appeared to have good boat speed, were pointing well, and could use the very light wind as well as the other boats. We traded positions with the other two trimarans in out fleet as we crept toward the first mark. We also had the 11 eter “Warrior” single-hull in our fleet masquerading as a wanna-be multi-hull boat, and they stayed fairly close to the group of tris for the first leg of the course. We ended up coming in to the finish line on a great lifting puff that seemed to be waiting for just us, and with the puff bringing us from well back to the front of the fleet, won that race.

The next day we had a little better winds, but still experienced large wind holes at various times. In the first race of that day we stayed fairly close to the other tris, and at the finish we felt we were close enough to correct out to another first place. In the second race of the day the Corsair F 750 (JK) caught its own private puff after the first mark and was soon over 400 yards ahead of us. Someone on our boat (who shall remain nameless) remarked that we could never catch him before the finish, and we quickly received a 20 degree header and our wind speed dropped. After chiding that person for their pessimism, I remarked that it’s not over till it’s over, and that bigger leads than that have been lost on Lake Travis. About thirty minutes later we found a great puff that allowed us to set the spinnaker, accelerate toward the next mark, and we cut about half of JK’s lead by the time we arrived at the mark. We then went left as JK went right on the last leg, and by the finish we were nearly even with his boat. Thus we felt that we had corrected to another first, and were very pleased with our sailing. We didn’t feel too rusty after all.

We were excited to accompany Steve and Carol up to accept our trophy at the awards ceremony, and thanked him for letting us enjoy a great weekend with on their boat. We saw a large number of our friends over the weekend at AYC. It reminded us of all the wonderful times we have experienced there over the years. We hope that our next visit back to Austin will be half as enjoyable as this last trip before we were to head out across the Gulf Stream. A few days later we flew back to south Florida and began preparations for the trip to Bimini.

The main rule that I read and heard over and over again for crossing the Gulf Stream is to not cross it when there is a wind over ten knots with the word “north” in its direction.

Thus, even moderate northwest, north, or northeast winds apparently cause a steep, heavy chop in the Stream that is at best uncomfortable, and at worst dangerous and a strong reason to turn around and wait for the weather to improve. We had planned to leave for Bimini around October 25, but for nearly a week we had only north or northeast winds over fifteen knots. We wisely stayed in Marathon and waited for the conditions to change. Finally, the weather forecast for after November 5th decided to sail across the Stream on Friday, November 7.

We also noticed a couple of days before our departure date that the moon was becoming nearly full. Checking on the moon phases, we found that we would have a full moon on our planned night for the sail. The wind was forecast for Friday evening to start out of the northwest, and then switch to the southwest, and then the following morning move to the southeast. Things were looking pretty good for our sail.

We planned to leave Marathon at 4 pm, so that we would arrive in Bimini the following morning late enough to have an overhead sun. The cruising guides all advise to only sail in the shallow waters of the Bahamas during daylight hours due to the shifting sands, (which result in changing water depths), a lack of complete charts for all areas, and numerous missing or non-working beacons and markers.

We said goodbye to our friends in Marathon, (especially the Marina security cat Buddy who had adopted us as his favorite boat), and sailed near the seven mile bridge one last time. As we turned to the northeast toward Bimini, we unrolled the sails and headed to our destination some 120 miles away. We were treated to another gorgeous sunset, and it even rewarded us with an awesome green flash as it dropped below the horizon.

An hour of so later, the promised full moon appeared on the eastern horizon, looking larger than possible and casting an orange shimmer across the water. By this time we were in the eastern edge of the Gulf Stream, and our boat speed was consistently over 8 knots over the ground. We were enjoying a gorgeous, fast ride to Bimini.

At about three the next morning, I was napping with Sandra driving, when she woke me from my slumber with “Ray, can you wake up and look at this?” As I became aware of what was around us, I noticed a huge cruise ship on our aft starboard side. Sandra said, “They seem to be coming up on us fairly fast, and I thought you should wake up to check on it.” The winds had lightened considerably, such that we were only doing about five knots at the time. Then the winds veered to the southeast a little more and this change in our course put us directly in the path of the cruise ship, which we had identified by that time as the Carnival Breeze. She was making 14 knots toward us and was about three miles away at that time, but looked very close in the night conditions.

I started the engine, altered our course to stay out of their way, and went behind them as they passed. I later found that the Breeze is one of largest cruise ships in the world, over a thousand feet long with fifteen passenger decks. At three in the morning it was lit up with hundreds of lights of all colors, but I’m sure that nearly all of the passengers, and most of the crew, were sleeping soundly as they sped past us heading to Miami. We were both cruising, but in greatly different vessels and style. We were able to see them for nearly an hour as they became smaller and smaller on the horizon.

The next morning the sun greeted us with another spectacular sunrise. We watched the eastern sky begin to first glow a dim, muted orange and then become more intense with every minute. The sun then suddenly appeared above the horizon and welcomed us to a new day. We both remarked at the same time that we were so fortunate to witness this event on our sail.

We arrived in Bimini the next morning at eleven o’clock, and settled into our slip on the southern tip of North Bimini. We explored the island and the nearby Alice Town. We’re staying in Brown’s Marina, which was one of the marinas that Ernest Hemingway would stay when he visited from Key West on one of his many fishing trips to this area. The color of the water is a beautiful aquamarine blue, and the clarity is so good that you can clearly see everything on the sandy bottom.

We’ll stay here for about three days, and then sail to Chub Key, on the other side of the Great Bahama Banks, and then sail to Nassau where we will visit a friend that I haven’t seen in over 45 years. My family hosted an exchange student from Switzerland when I was in high school. He spent his senior year in high school with my family. He returned to Switzerland to finish his university studies and then began a career in banking. He subsequently located to Nassau a few years later, and has been there ever since.

We’ve been communicating via email and phone for the past few months and are looking forward to seeing each after all these years.

Chapter 8 - More Marathon

02 September 2014 | Florida Keys
Sandra
More Marathon

Today is September 1.

Now some people may wonder how long we could last without being in the burbs and instead living full-time on a boat, nonetheless!!? (Guess what. We are still happy as clams).

As I mentioned earlier, we are in a protected harbor in Marathon and we'll stay here through the majority of the hurricane season, and we're still (mostly me) dealing with bug bites and such, but so many great things here make up for the little "inconveniences."

One inconvenience has gone away. The masses of tourists, (we're now considered locals, of course), have disbanded and have taken their kiddos with them to return to school. So it's cleared out quite a bit around here and we like it!

We've been heading out two to three days per week to dive for lobster, joined by our good friend Barbara.

Every dive is a unique experience. One time Barb speared a couple of snapper, but noticed a 6 foot nurse shark below was becoming "interested." Nurse sharks are not aggressive but they, and other large fish, will consider the opportunity to steal your catch and the "gun" along with it. We backed off and let the shark claim that reef.

There is a plethora of jellyfish here. They travel in large packs in some areas. Just have to remember the tiny transparent white ones don't sting, so no worries when they are surrounding you by the hundreds. The purple ones will sting and it will hurt. I'm told you can push the purple (stinging ones) away by shoving them on the top of their "heads." Just don't touch the underneath or its tentacles will get you even with a dive skin on. The white ones were just very annoying and I was constantly waving them away from my face. In either case I don't like any of them near me.

Our GoPro arrived and Ray's been taking underwater photos! Check them out in our gallery. I don't have any photos of him underwater because he hasn't relinquished control yet. (okay, I understand, wouldn't want to drop it to the ocean floor like our last one). Last time we were out Barb mentioned it was hot and asked if I could please drop something into the water so she could retrieve it......(Ha Ha Ha! Um..no. But good one, Barb!)

We were out one day at the end of "tourist season" and were practically the only boat around the Sombrero Lighthouse. We were suiting up for our dive and suddenly I'm coming up from the companionway and heard what almost sounded like a sonic boom. ("Now, why on earth are the military craft always following us??") Actually this was another spectacular event. There is a fighter plane group at the Boca Chica Naval Base in Key West and two navy pilots were apparently out on "maneuvers." We were one of the very few boats around so they seized the opportunity to give us a show.

After the "boom" I saw the F-18's blasting away from us and Ray tells me the first plane was so low that he actually saw the tail hook. He said it was about 500 feet above us. Then I asked, "Do you smell lighter fluid?" (it was STRONG). Ray pointed out that the smell was the jet fuel the F-18's use and hardly anyone is ever in such close proximity to one of these jets to actually be able to smell it. Okay, the two "Top Guns" spotted us and decided to "buzz the sailboat" and we, in turn, got close-up "views" of them as well. No worries. We were hoping they'd make another pass!

We went out for our dive and Barb recovered a really nice fishing rod and reel that someone ELSE dropped in the ocean. She brought it up and Ray had a new project! He later cleaned the rod, then disassembled and reassembled the reel with some new parts he ordered. We now have three fishing rods, two for trolling off the sides and one for the center "shotgun." We're in top form to troll from Irregardless and are now prepared to catch "The Big One!"

On our next trip we trolled and landed a little Tunny. Yep, he was a small guy so we decided to use him as bait for that big one that was out there somewhere. We trolled him a short way until he became wise to our plan. We believe he swam over and grabbed hold of a lobster pot so he could escape our hook. We had to turn around to un-snare the line from the pot and Tunny had indeed managed to slip away. We'll watch out for this tactic next time........

Other than diving and fishing, what else do we do? Well, other than Ray's daily visits to West Marine, we walk the "Old Seven." This is the bridge Arnold featured and blew up in the movie "True Lies."

Sidenote: We purchased the movie from Amazon and had two wonderful evenings of closely examining almost every clip of the chase scene on the bridge. Overkill, maybe, but we had fun. We noted "hundreds" of things, exclaiming "Oh, I recognize that." "That's where that is." "That building didn't exist at the time." "That parking lot is different." We also made lots of observations of "serious" discrepancies in the movie.

SO, in the movie they used both the old and new bridge for the scenes, repeatedly, and they were going the WRONG direction most of the time! When the bad guys were supposed to be escaping and heading for Miami, the scenes were shot with them heading in the opposite direction back to Key West. If we had not been spending a month or two right here, and had a little extra time on our hands, we would never have discovered these tremendously significant errors! We recommend that anyone who spends time in Marathon to indulge in a "semi-serious" Pyrat fueled critique of the "True Lies" chase scene on this bridge.

This is just one prime example of how we "just don't sit on the boat all day doing nothing." (Who says people don't do constructive things while out "cruising" or "living" on a boat?) Cruising is very conducive to creative thinking and observations. Especially on such important issues as technical errors in mega box-office movie productions.

Back to our exercise regimen on The Old Seven Bridge. It is still open (almost half-way) for pedestrians or bicycle riders to enjoy, so almost every day we make the trek. It's actually 2 and 1/16th miles up and then back so we get about 4 miles of exercise (on a good day). There's a lot to see on this excursion when the water is clear, which it is most of the time. We observe happy boaters and divers in the shallow water below, but the best things to see are the sea turtles, rays, nurse shark, barracuda, tarpon and other creatures swimming about. Then there are the Pelicans that literally buzz people's heads along the way as they surf the updraft on the leading edge of the bridge, the Cormorants, and the elegant Osprey that perch on the rail and dive down to snare their catch. I almost left out the 4-foot Iguanas that bask in the sun with no fear of humans.

After a brisk walk on the bridge we're usually ready for lunch. We've been eating a lot of homemade cucumber/tomato salad, sandwiches, Ray's famous guacamole and carry-outs.

Our extended list of good restaurants is below:

1. Porky's -5 stars on my list- right at the Seven Mile Bridge. (They offered us our first "Local's Discount" here) Their pulled pork is amazing and their menu is huge with a lot of traditional southern fare if you grow weary of island seafood - it does happen, occasionally. On the front of the menu it is mentioned that they were established in the 50's and some notable patrons included Elizabeth Taylor, Ernest Hemmingway and Jimmy Hoffa. (What did those three have to talk about??)
2. FL Keys Lobster and Steak House, (formerly known as Annette's by the locals,) looks touristy but has an impressive menu that features "smaller portions," when you don't want to eat, or pay for, a big meal.
3. Lazy Dayz is a local favorite and ours too.
4. King Seafood is a small Cuban café with really good lobster or conch chowder and super fresh fish.

Other than the local restaurant/bars, the Marathon Yacht Club is a very nice place to visit. They gave Ray instant reciprocity, we were greeted with a warm welcome by all and we met special people once again. The sunset view from MYC is unbelievable - almost saw the green flash one evening.

Our first new friend from MYC, Don, has been a member here for almost 20 years. He is originally from New Jersey and in the 60's and 70's was a serious Ice Boat Sailor! So much so that he competed in international competitions as far away as Warsaw, Poland. Once Ray heard this he promptly readjusted our seating so he and Don could really talk. And that they did! Next evening Don arrived at MYC with an old book on Ice Boat Sailing to loan to Ray. They are now buds!

We attended Trivia Night at MYC the next week and Don, Ray and I were the "Ice Boat" team. We actually won the first round of five questions for a $25.00 credit at the club! (The first round was "sports" so we got lucky because the next few rounds were Florida trivia and politics. We weren't as clued-in as we should have been since we are now calling ourselves "locals").

MYC is now closed for the month of September as many businesses here do the same. We look forward to the re-opening in October and more visits with our new friends there.

I must comment on the security at our slip at Burdine's Marina. All marinas have security in some form or the other. Cameras, Uniformed patrols, Neighbors, Security Bird in Panama City (see photo from PC Blog).

Here we have "Buddy." He is a fawn-colored Tabby cat with a raccoon tail. He peruses the marina in a regal fashion wearing his "harness-style collar" with multiple tags indicating ownership, vaccinations and chip ID. Buddy is approximately 11 years-old and fears no man or dog. Buddy also takes it upon himself to board any vessel, anytime, for official inspection (or treats). He's a very cool cat and he knows it. He's welcomed himself many times aboard Irregardless and we make him, or HE makes himself, right at home.

So what do you do when you live on a boat in Marathon?
1. Eat and Drink
2. Snorkel and Dive
3. Walk the "Old Seven" or play golf (nice par 3 course nearby)
4. Hang out and read and visit with Buddy the "Security Cat"
5. Fix Things, clean, cook, other chores, etc.
6. Observe nature and other surroundings we may have never paid attention to before ("there's a new shoot on that palm tree over there......")
7. Listen to Jimmy Buffet nearly all day every day and then travel over to Key West and be sure to visit Jimmy Buffet's original Margaritaville. Have a Margarita just to say you did!

So today is Labor Day and the tourists returned for a final weekend of festivities. The winds have been blowing 20 to 30 knots and we heard that quite a few boat trips were cut short or cancelled from rough seas and seasickness. In fact, when we walked the bridge we only saw about 15 small boats that made the attempt and they were all hiding out on the leeward side of the island to avoid the worst of the conditions.

We hung out on Irregardless in the breeze which sure felt good and we had all our flags flyin'. Thank you Bobby and Margo for our new Texas Longhorn Flag!

Chapter 7 - Marathon in the Florida Keys

09 August 2014 | Florida Keys
Sandra
(If you don't see the photo box for this chapter on the right hand side, click on just above them to view the album. The photo links like to "jump around."

Marathon in the Florida Keys

Warning: Be Careful Driving in the Florida Keys! Seriously. People walk out in the middle of the street (without looking), they turn their vehicles sporadically into shopping areas, (without looking), there are very few stoplights, there is only one highway, and all this literally scares the crap out of me!

We considered buying fold up bikes to go out and about. The exercise would be good but it seemed too dangerous to us. We then checked out Craigslist for a car, since the rental cars here for 3 months would cost about the same as buying a used vehicle in good condition. We could always sell it later. We almost bought a small pickup but then Ray decided what the heck, let's go back to Houston, get his Avalanche, and then make a run up to Austin to get our scuba gear, his Sailrite sewing machine and more stuff. It took four days to accomplish these tasks and make the drive back to Marathon. So now we have our own land and sea transportation.

I decided to join the local gym. It's a bit pricey but it's clean and rivals some of the best gyms in Austin.

Here's a little more about Marathon.
If you like the resort lifestyle and don't like "laid back with lots of character", then Marathon should be a short stop. However, if you like "very simple tropical living, with roaming chickens, small marinas, and very few tourist trappings", then you might like to stay a while. We like it here a lot. I don't have to iron my clothes much, and once again we've met so many interesting and wonderful people! The heat and humidity here is fairly intense but we've learned to take things as they are. We're living the dream, right? Okay, even with lots of sweat, bug bites, bug spray, itch cream and so on......... I still wouldn't trade this for anything.

Ray, as industrious as ever, made shades to go over the deck and down the back of Irregardless. He could have paid a canvas company about $500 dollars plus for ready-made ones. Instead he went to Home Depot, bought white painter's canvas and grommets, and assembled the full covers in about two hours. Fifty dollars total and they look quite nice.

We went fishing with our marina neighbor Richard and only caught one fish but it was a BEAUTIFUL DAY!!!! Richard's boat has a total of seven lines in the water when he's trolling. Richard asked Ray to drive and he went about his routine of setting the lines. Two are on outriggers, another two are off of each side, and there is a shotgun line in the center that trolls the farthest behind. His bait of choice is Ballyhoo. He really knows what he's doing. Fishing is hit and miss, and even though we only caught one that day we'd be glad to join him anytime.

A few days later, we sailed out to the Sombrero Lighthouse reef for snorkeling. There are plenty of mooring balls and it was not too crowded (this time). We saw yellowtail, sergeant majors and barracuda. I was not aware that there were barracuda swimming around me, until I signaled to Ray, "Look at those large shiny fish!" He pointed at my necklace and nodded his head. I popped up and said "Those are barracudas?!!" Uh huh. There were only about 10 around me, and I'd been told long ago that they like the shiny stuff. (Or they get mad or aggressive about the shiny stuff). Whatever the reason, I had forgotten to remove the shiny stuff and will not do that again.

A week or so later, Richard called and said he's coming back down from Ft. Meyers, (where he lives and keeps his boat most of the year), and wanted to know if we wanted to go fishing again. He brought his friend Tim and then Richard, Tim and Ray hit the seas. I stayed behind with a bout of Swimmer's Ear.
So then I get a call from Ray about four hours after they left and I thought "this can't be good - what happened?"

OH BUT IT WAS GOOD! After catching a few small fish (mahi mahi, barracuda) they landed a BIG ONE. Ray tells me they're coming in with a 5 foot Wahoo. It weighed 45 pounds and all three participated in bringing it in. I took photos as they approached the dock. When they arrived at the dock Richard said this was the biggest fish he ever caught on his current boat. I asked Richard how long he's had the boat. He said "12 years." These guys were happy, happy and happy. See the photos.

Richard cut about 8 steaks from the tail of the Wahoo for us and they were good! He said if we have leftovers to make Wahoo Salad (i.e. like tuna or chicken salad). I found a recipe online and yes, it was delicious as well (just used some mayo - lemon - a bit of jalapeno without the seeds - seasoning salt, and other herbs).

We had previously met one of our marina neighbors Barbara, who has a 43' Roberts that was home built. Barbara is a very friendly person and was quite amused at the name of our boat. She appreciated our desire to have a name that doesn't take itself too seriously.

Barbara invited us to join her and 2 friends for happy hour at Eric Stone's Dockside Café (Eric is pretty much a local celebrity here. He's the owner and frequent musical performer and is also from Texas!). Ray knew who he was and I'm thinking, once again, "HOW DO YOU KNOW ALL THIS STUFF?! " We had a great evening at the restaurant and noticed that a "Texas" shirt is prominently displayed on the stage.

LOBSTERS!
We arrived in Marathon in time for what's called "mini lobster season." It's a 2 day event on the last Wednesday and Thursday of July and it is only open to "recreational" and "mostly amateur" lobster hunters. I will admit we fall into those categories since we had absolutely no experience diving for lobsters before....... (So we read up on it).

Divers or snorkelers can "tickle", or coax, unsuspecting lobsters from their hiding places, usually under rocks or anyplace else the "bugs" can find a cubby hole to nest. The process is not easy as I found out later. It takes practice and you'd better "do things right" or you'll be in trouble, meaning big fines if you bag a lobster that is too small or if you harm the lobster in any way before bringing it back to shore. There are also more rules and a I mean a LOT of them. The rules, (where you can hunt, how many you can catch, minimum size, etc.), are strictly enforced by the Game and Wildlife folks. They come from all over the state to do just that during these two days. The enforcers are undercover in all kinds of ways. Everything from plain clothes guys on jet skis to female officers in string bikinis on boats saying "Howdy! What did you catch today?"

Most of the locals, (not the businesses), can't wait for the 2 days to pass. Traffic is gnarly and thousands of boaters swarm in and inevitably cause damage to the reefs. We chose not to venture out during this mini season. All the chaos in and on the water would best be avoided especially after hearing numerous stories of tangled anchor lines and mangled motor boats.
We decided to wait and try this during regular season. Barbara brought us 4 lobster tails from her mini-season hunting excursion with friends and family in the Miami area. (She's a pro at bagging these things).

At the end of July, one of Ray's very best friends, Bobby, flew from Austin to visit us. Bobby has raced sailboats for over a decade with Ray, and he raced with us on our triumphant victory last fall on Irregardless in the Harvest Moon Regatta.

We went to the Sombrero Key lighthouse reef the day after mini lobster season. There must have been a hundred boats there and we were the only sailboat! We anchored and enjoyed several hours of snorkeling. I "chummed" the fish with crackers and chips and was so impressed with my photos of the spectacle I created, that I dropped Ray's camera in the water. (Holy crap!) Ray was briefly distressed, but Bobby dove down, retrieved the drowned camera and saved the memory card with all of our priceless photos. My excuse was, "Hey, I planned this. We needed a new camera!" We actually ordered 2 new cameras. One to replace the ruined one and a special waterproof camera for me to use.......

During Bobby's 4-day visit Ray and I had a blast showing him around Marathon and Key West. As we drove the Seven-mile Bridge, we pointed out the portion on the older bridge next to it that "Arnold" was allowed to blow up in the movie True Lies. Yep, we don't know what they paid the local government, but they let them blow up a portion of the old bridge for the movie. We visited the Mel Fisher Treasure Museum in Key West, then looked and looked for shops with souvenir t-shirts. They were nowhere to be found. Darn, no t-shirt shops in Key West? (Just kidding.) We considered visiting the Ernest Hemingway house but on a Saturday it was packed with a nice long line to get in. Ray has seen it before and said it's worthwhile but we'll go back during a weekday. We've got plenty of time here.

So then it was a couple more days of sightseeing, hanging out, enjoying Bobby's "Pain Killers," (for which he is famous in the Austin area), more snorkeling and just tooling around. The "Sunset Grille" in Marathon was a great finale. Right at the east tip of the Seven Mile Bridge, this restaurant is not to be missed. Great food, swimming pool, sunset, view of the bridge and good times!

Come back again soon, Bobby, and bring Margo if she can get away. We also got one our new cameras from Amazon today, so I'll try not to hurl it into the ocean the first time we try it out. Thanks again, Bobby, for saving our stuff!
We were planning to head to the "official" Key West Lobster Fest this weekend. To our friends in Austin - it's Pecan Street Festival with arts and crafts, music and lots of LOBSTER!

Oh, but WAIT! Barbara was visiting with us one day and mentioned she'd be interesting in going lobster hunting again nearby. She had the next day off from her job and we asked if she wanted to go out then. Sure, she says, and she had some pretty good coordinates of where we might find some lobsters. So this would be perfect. We'd take our boat and have great company with someone who knows what this stuff is all about. I mentioned that she is a pro, but Barbara is actually an EXPERT diver and she even brought along her spear gun if she saw an opportunity to nab some tasty fish.

When I mention that lobster hunting is "not easy" it is no joke. You have to be in good shape, up to par on your diving experience and be able to swim with net, stick, lobster bag and measuring tool. We inventoried our diving equipment, checked that it was all working, loaded everything on Irregardless (our now-lobster boat), and left the marina. Barbara gave Ray some lat/long numbers that he put in the GPS and we set out for that spot.

We maneuvered through the hundreds of lobster trap lines set out by the commercial folks and arrived at our first stop. Barbara said that this was a small spot, but a good one to try first. If the visibility was bad, or there were no "bugs" then we would move to the next spot. It appeared a little murky at first but then this spot turned out to be perfect.

The current was tough but there were hundreds of spiny Florida lobsters hanging out right under our boat. After Barbara bagged her (and our) limit, she dropped off her tank to snorkel back three or four more times with her gun. The "gun" looks like something out of a James Bond movie. Any "pirate" would run screaming at the sight of that spear gun pointed at him! She proceeded to bring back four snapper. Each time she snorkeled out, I watched from the deck and then I'd say to Ray, "She's going down in for one!" Sure enough, Barbara would soon swim back with an expertly speared "catch." To say we were impressed is an understatement! She nailed these fish in the same spot every time, right behind the gills so the spear didn't go through the fillet. "Barbara, how do you aim those things?" (Lots of experience and natural talent?).

Ray saved our coordinates and officially named the spot "Barbara's Reef."

We were all a bit tired after we got back to the marina. We separated the tails from the spiny lobsters, Barb filleted the snapper, and after cleaning up we all went to dinner at Lazy Dayz because we were too tired to cook. What a day!

(Thank you, Barbara, and Ray will grill lobster tails for all tomorrow night!).

We may rethink our visit to the Key West Lobster Fest. We don't need any crafty things and we've got plenty of "bug tails" in the freezer! In the next month we plan to do more lobster hunting and I'd REALLY like to have a James Bond spear gun! (It looks very empowering. Fishing with line and hook is so passive. I can leave that to the guys.)

One day I might be saying, "Look out you barracudas, I've got something shiny for ya' as soon as I learn how to aim one of these bad boys!"

Chapter 6 - Still No Agenda, Just Five More Ports

13 July 2014 | Sarasota/ Venice/ Ft. Myers/ Naples/ Marathon
Sandra
Sarasota/ Venice/ Ft. Myers/ Naples/ Marathon
June 24-July 13

Sounds like a long trip but we continue to take it nice and easy (as possible). On June 24 we arrived in Sarasota.

Our friends Marsha and Tom had recommended Marina Jack and it had high ratings on the Waterway Guide and Active Captain. They left their trawler there for a couple of weeks to venture back to Houston and get their car. We arrived there on a Tuesday night and went over and checked on their boat then walked back over to ours.

Marina Jack is a top notch Marina. All employees are in uniform and immediately ready to help with fuel, pump out and dockage. They have several restaurants - 3, I believe. The patio was my favorite, with top notch live music every night. I believe the Patio is a "destination" for those who don't even have boats at the marina. It was packed Tuesday evening and the patrons were "dressed for a night out." We didn't need to wander up since the live music was easily heard at our slip. Must be REALLY loud up there I'm thinking. They finished up around 10pm each night so it wasn't a bother. As far as we were concerned they could play until midnight. A very unusual boat pulled in the transient slip next to us. Obviously a custom made or altered boat. We thought it looked like a small oil tanker at first. Check out the stairway to get down to the dock.

Wednesday night we wandered up and discovered just how loud it REALLY was at the bar/patio. As we had our appetizers this guy wearing an Ullman Sails shirt and hat wanders up with his Australian Shepherd (Zach). Zach was a beautiful rescue pup he came across when he was looking for a pup for his mom. So Ray knows all about Ullman Sails and they struck up a conversation (well, almost a screaming match since the music was so loud). Turns out that Doug is the president of the Florida division of Ullman Sails and a very accomplished racer. He never mentioned his racing credentials. (But, yes Doug, I googled you and I'm so impressed with your modesty). Doug did tell us he has sailed with Jimmy Buffett on Jimmy's VERY LARGE race boat. So I asked Doug, "Can Jimmy Buffet REALLY sail?" Turned out to be a silly question.

Doug says Jimmy is not only good, but can drive damn competitively and crack jokes with the crew at the same time, and then he wins. All righty then...good to know! I was waiting to hear that he can play guitar at the same time as well. He probably could but I didn't ask.

So Ray and Doug shouted to each other for a good 2 hours about racing, sails, boats, tactics, all that stuff. I mostly played with Zach and got a photo with Doug and the puppy before they left. We left Sarasota on Thursday and headed for Venice. It was a nice sail down the ICWW canal. We went through a couple of bridges and thanked the bridge operators for stopping those "pesky cars" and raising the bridges so we could pass.

At Venice there is a tiny marina called the Crow's Nest. And when I say tiny, there were only about 10 slips. It was really quaint, though. When I radioed the harbormaster and asked if we could have a slip that we could back into he says "In fifteen years here I've never heard that one." When we got there I realized why. There was no way you could get our boat through the narrow passage to the resident's slips (they were all motor boats). Everything else was side tie. Okay fine, I'll stop asking so many questions and take a look at the Waterway Guide or Active Captain first. Also there were a LOT of crows milling about, hence the name. They had a great restaurant that apparently the locals love because it was packed that night. A big Florida storm rolled in as we were dining and it left us a gorgeous gigantic sunset. I wouldn't have minded if we stayed another night and borrowed the bikes that were available to explore downtown but we decided to head out the next morning. We left about 8am to get to Ft. Myer's about 3pm so we would miss the daily deluge that was occurring at about 5 or 6pm every night.

Now this gets GOOD. Or kind of BAD - depending on if you were us.
We had a beautiful sail initially with cool breezes and dolphin escorts. THEN here comes the storm.

At about 2 pm we saw the clouds on the horizon. Not just one horizon, but three. Ray checked the radar and forecast, and it appeared that the approaching weather would move south and to the west of us. Okay, that sounded fine as I marveled at the distinction of the emerald colors of the water with the "beautiful" dark, DARK blue clouds in the sky. What a magnificent sight!

Beautiful can sometimes be deceiving.................

There were three storm cells surrounding us at Sanibel Island and we were going to have to round a point on the island before we could turn toward Ft. Meyers Beach. It became obvious there was no way we were getting to or around that point before the storms arrived. There was also nowhere to take refuge.

We rolled up the genny and main, then Ray got our PFD's and asked me to grab the foul weather jackets. Uh Oh.

The storms got closer, then closer and then it seemed like all hell broke loose.

Ray monitored the radar as well as the skies as he maneuvered Irregardless continually to try to stay in the "Yellow" areas to try to avoid the most treacherous parts of the THREE cells! The wind was blowing 30 to 40 knots, the waves were only 5 or 6 feet, but it was pouring so hard we could barely see 50 feet in front of us in broad daylight. It kind of stung too.

The worst was the lightning. There was a lot of electricity in the air and Ray was not comfortable at all with this. Most all of you know him pretty well and when he becomes "concerned" about something it's for good reason. I was reasonably keeping my composure , I think, and I even stayed up the cockpit. When a bolt came down fifty yards behind Ray's shoulder, I momentarily panicked. Ray said "Sandra, stay calm! I need you to be calm right now!" I looked up at him and seeing the expression and intense focus on his face I recovered in three seconds. (And I prayed).

Then I got angry. I thought "Get it right guys!" referring to the weather forecast that we had received before we left. The radio advisories were a little better but still missing some important details. The advisories said just ONE storm cell heading south and west. Not a word about THREE CELLS from the north, east and south converging on each other right above our heads. The advisories did repeatedly advise that all watercraft seek immediate shelter. That was helpful. The alerts also kept repeating that the storm warning was to expire at 4:30pm. I kept checking my watch. Guess how accurate that prediction was...

When things finally began to calm down after about 2 hours, Ray adjusted our course to round the island and we headed toward Ft. Myers Beach and the Pink Shell Resort Marina.

As we came in there was a STRONG current in the channel as the tide was going out and it was perpendicular to our slip. This was not good either. Ray passed back and forth in front of the slip to try to determine how we could dock and cause the least damage to Irregardless. He said that he thought the current was 3-4 knots. The slip we were assigned would not do because we would surely hit two posts there that were covered with barnacles. Ray chose the next one over and said "We're going to be pushed into the side, but hopefully we'll hit the rubber bumper on the dock finger." We put all our fenders on starboard, and then Ray aimed right at the posts at our port side knowing that the current would shove us in the opposite direction into the dock. We hit hard on the rubber dock bumper. As Ray maneuvered, the current mashed us against the dock so tight that we probably didn't even need to tie up to any cleats. We lassoed the posts on the other side and pulled the boat out as hard as we could from the dock to reposition our starboard fenders that almost looked like flat tires. After that I made Ray a rum and coke, gave him a hug and asked him about his blood pressure.............. (You know, STORM- LIGHTNING-RAIN-CURRENT- DOCK!!) A fellow two boats down visited and said "Hi, I saw you come in. Hell of a current, huh!" Yeah, thanks for the help, friend. Fortunately, Irregardless only sustained a black mark on her hull from the rubber on the marina dock and it wiped right off.

We changed clothes then walked into town still looking and feeling like ragged drenched pups and found the famous Nervous Nellie's restaurant and bar. We were greeted by the Peligriso Tequila team giving out free sample shots of their cinnamon blend. Tequila isn't usually our favorite but we said "okay, don't need to ask twice." Later we heard that a funnel cloud had formed during the storm in the waterway close to Ft. Myers Beach and thousands of people were without power from the storms. Streets were flooded and people mentioned they couldn't believe we were "out there in that?!" Ray replied that we kind of had no choice because there was nowhere else to go. All we could do was circle and point Irregardless to the "safer" areas in the middle of the storms. We know fellow sailors understand this all too well. (One nice man at Nervous Nellie's did mention that my hair actually looked great after being drenched for hours by rain and sea - thank you, sir. Perhaps the high voltage out there enhanced my curls.)

I continue to be in awe of the power of Mother Nature and how we can only try to cope with what she dishes out. I also know that once again this may not be the worst we ever go through, but I think we're getting our fair share of practice for whatever may come our way.

Oops, I must mention the videographer we met at Nervous Nellie's. He does commercials, documentaries, etc. He was listening to our experience and thought it would an interesting idea to put 3 or 4 Go-Pros on us and around the boat, with additional sound mikes and a satellite feed and chronicle our "adventures". He even walked back to Irregardless with us to visualize the placement of said monitors. He has our boat card and we said we would consider it but we don't think that we would actually be that "interesting." You know, like the those Swamp or Duck People or Deadliest Catch type shows. (Ray just doesn't get keyed up enough and I don't want to be seen freaking out.....)

The next day, June 29, we left for Naples and the sail was fantastic! We made it in about 6 hours. The weather was beautiful and so were the homes we saw as we motored through the harbor channel.

The only thing I wasn't really impressed with was the fact that there is either "unlimited wake" allowed or that a "no wake" zone doesn't even exist in the channel amongst the Watch Out For The Manatees signs. I found out from a local person that some influential attorneys and businesses, etc., sued to have the city remove the no-wake requirement a few years ago. So, in essence, "screw the manatees, fast and loud may be more important" to the attorneys and businesses. I will add that there were many boaters that were respectful and safe in this same passage.

Back to a more positive note, we met more INCREDIBLE people! We're sitting at the pool at the Naples Boat Club Marina, which is quite nice, and a group of Italians, (Oh NO!, Not Italians in NAPLES! - Had to throw that in, Vinny!), arrived celebrating a birthday and proceeded to launch themselves into the pool. These guys were GREAT! The first thing they said was "Do you mind if we barge in and do you want a drink? We have plenty!" We said "OKAY!"

The group was Anthony, and about 6 friends, and his father Vinny. Anthony was celebrating his 45th, and they cruised in on his Viking 50. We spent most of the evening visiting with Vinny while the "youngsters" splashed around in the pool.

Now Vinny is quite the man. He's a retired police officer from Connecticut and retired head of Security at Yale University. He's got the best sense of humor and zest for life and is very handsome to boot! He was extremely interested in hearing about our travels.

They went out to hit the town that night but the next day EVERYBODY came out to their boat to continue the celebration. We met more of Vinny's family including his daughter, daughter-in-law, Melissa- and Anthony and Melissa's adorable 5-year old twin kiddos, Arabella and Anthony Jr.

The clubhouse at the marina is very nice with a regulation-size pool table so Ray got snared by Tony Jr. and Arabella for several games of pool. He had a blast. I got to visit with Anne, Vinny's daughter, for quite a bit. She is a truly wonderful person, who works as a counselor for hospice patients. This wonderful lady and I spent over an hour talking as Ray enjoyed his pool tournament. (Anne, you're such a gem and I'm so glad we met and I hope to keep in touch).

Okay, back to Vinny, the friendliest "manly man" in Naples. We had just met and two days later Vinny invites Ray and I out for lunch and a tour around Naples. He and his friend Gerry picked us up and boy did we get the grand tour! Vinny took us almost everywhere. We drove through the most exclusive areas, and he provided the "who's who" in Naples and where they live. He also drove us up to a nice beach close to the Pier at Naples for a photo op. All this time we thoroughly enjoyed the banter between Vinny and Gerry. They met each other down here about 6 years ago and are now life-long friends. These guys engage in some seriously funny "bantering." Put a few Go-Pro's and mikes around when they're together and then you'll have a REAL hit TV show.

We're driving along and Vinny's car phone rings. It's on speaker. Vinny says hello and an insurance agent on the other end asks if Danielle is available. Vinny says, "Danielle? I don't know. You tell ME if she's available. I need a Danielle right now. Is she available?" The operator was in stitches and said she must have the wrong number. Vinny says "Okay, but if Danielle becomes available let me know. You have my number."

So then Vinny takes us to lunch at Tommy Bahama's right off 5th avenue. He said this was the ORIGINAL one. I didn't know Tommy Bahama had a restaurant, but it was very good. (The clothing stores were also there, on both sides of the restaurant.) Being retired police, and a Marine, Vinny always makes sure he sits with his back to the wall so he can observe his surroundings. When people pass by he watches them carefully and it's almost like he can see right through them. I felt very safe!

Next we went to the Burn Cigar Lounge, owned by Rocky Patel. I did not know this but Rocky Patel is one of the world's largest manufacturers of premium cigars. Oh, and there stands Rocky, himself, right next to the bar with a group of guys getting ready to watch the US/Germany soccer match. Rocky knows Vinny and his son and a he came over and visited with us for a while. After a cocktail we headed back to our boat and thanked Vinny and Gerry for a really terrific afternoon. We'll keep in touch, Vinny! Thanks again!

After our week was up we headed for Marathon for our extended stay during the hurricane season. We docked at Burdine's Marina and plan to stay three months or so during hurricane season. Burdine's is a small privately owned marina and according to Ray, it is one of the most protected ones around. We have the Chiki Tiki marina restaurant 100 feet away and Castaways just a slightly longer walk. Marathon is very relaxed and very casual. It's also known for some great snorkel and diving spots. If you decide to snorkel in the keys we understand you can kill the lionfish that are taking over in these parts with ANYTHING, including a shotgun. There are literally signs everywhere that say KILL THE LIONFISH! They are supposed to be good eating but don't touch them unless you are wearing a welder's glove or something similar. Their spines are sharp and poisonous.

I also recommend that everyone be prepared for the attacks of the no-see-ums. I was told by several folks that they are brutal this year. Really?

First of all, I'm allergic to mosquito bites and I scratch! This also became an issue with the invisible "flying teeth" (the no-see-ums) that inhabit the keys as well. I was covered with bites after the second day. Ray has them too but he has more control over the need to rip through his skin when it itches. We now cover ourselves each day with 40% DEET spray and I top mine off with AVON Skin so Soft oil so the "flying teeth" slide off before they have the chance to lock in on my skin. We also keep the fans going down below and purchased a box fan for the cockpit to blow the little suckers away from us. Even with all this I required a visit to the doctor for some antibiotic. I'm going to wait a few more days for my wounds to heal before jumping into the water even though I'm anxious to do some snorkeling and diving.

We rented a car and have ventured out for sightseeing, provisions and of course, Ray always needs something from West Marine. Ray also needed to drive to Key West to get a pirate flag to replace our tattered one. A 45 minute drive just for the flag?, I asked? "Absolutely, he replies. The pirate flag MUST come from the official Pirate Museum there." His Hog's Breath Saloon t-shirt was almost worn out as well.

So when we arrived at Key West we set out on our "quest" for the flag and the Hog's Breath Saloon. We started for the Pirate Museum for the coveted flag. Ray then decided he might just check the location on his IPhone so we could find it faster. Well, come to find out they moved the Pirate Museum to St. Augustine in North Florida two years ago................

We walked around some more among the throngs of tourists on bikes, mopeds and trolley tours before sitting on a perch at Hog's Breath for a while. It was actually a nice day. Ray got his shirt and one for me. We waved "see you soon" to Key West and headed back to Marathon.

Earlier in the week we met our neighbors Richard and Kathleen who go fishing on their sportfishing boat about 4 to 5 days every week. She told me she drives," Richard does the fishing." Richard and Ray are getting to be buds chatting from their boats in the late afternoons. Richard is a retired fireman and I asked him how realistic the movie Backdraft was. He said "Firemen don't actually go running through the middle of burning buildings when there's no one in there to rescue. " He and Ray commenced to discuss the "poetic license" taken in movies about fires and also about sailing. Hollywood can really pack in unrealistic scenarios for obvious reasons. We will need to visit with Vinny on the tons of cop movies that portray most everything incorrectly and I'd even like to know which ones are the most accurate.

Kathleen's going on a 2 week Alaska cruise next week with some of her good friends, and oh yes, I'm envious, of course. Since Kathleen will be out of town Richard invited us to go out fishing with him next week. We are looking forward to that. So far so good in Marathon. Especially if you wear long sleeves and pants at dawn and dusk and make sure you're armed with high potency bug spray and antihistamines if necessary. And don't scratch. "You just have to adapt to whatever flies your way."

Chapter 5- Panama City to St. Pete

25 June 2014 | Panama City/Clearwater/St. Petersburg
Sandra
PANAMA CITY - TO CLEARWATER - TO ST. PETERSBURG

We set off Saturday, June 8 at 7am and waved goodbye to our friends in Panama City. The Harbor Master made us promise that we would stay there if we ever come that way again!

Marsha and Tom Taylor with their friend Larry and their 2 cats set out a few hours behind us in their Grand Banks trawler. They easily caught up with us by 2:00pm. The winds could have been better. They were only blowing at 8-10 knots but the gulf was beautiful. It appeared there were "diamonds glistening on the water" day and night.

We sailed most of the first day and motor sailed the next, furling and unfurling the jib and main as the "breezes" came and went.

We came across schools of flying fish dozens of times. There were also happy dolphins goofing off around us on many occasions. Ray was driving during the middle of the night and one of the happy dolphins leapt out of the water right beside him, squeaked hello in mid-air and splashed down nice and loud. Ray said the "happy fellow" was only a foot or so away from his position at the helm and it being 3:00am it practically "scared the hell out of him!"

It took us overnight and most of the day to arrive in Clearwater at about 7:30pm on Monday evening. The marina was situated next to a very tall bright white bridge. The evening lights that illuminated the bridge created a warm friendly glow on the boats at our marina. The next day we watched seagulls, egrets and large blue herons busy being birds on the dock and just relaxed.
We left after day 2 and headed for St. Petersburg.

The water turned from sapphire to emerald green as we sailed along. It took eight hours to sail to St. Pete, since the winds were better. We arrived at St. Petersburg Yacht Club marina and were met by the harbor master with a welcome packet in hand. He then escorted us to the YC office to check in. The St. Petersburg YC is one of the more elegant clubs we've visited and we enjoyed our time there.

Ray met a fellow named Burt in the lobby of the club who informed us that Tuesday nights are half-price happy hour and we "got here just in time." Burt also gave us the scoop on all the pertinent things we needed to know about people and events at the SPYC.

We sat next to Burt in the lounge and he introduced us to George who runs the "Twighlight" series races. Our friends at AYC hold the same type of casual Friday evening races but they are called the "Beer Can Races." George mentioned that Ray should probably be able to find a crew spot on one of the boats. (Ray had been chomping at the bit to race for weeks.) In fact, he just happened to spot a really nice Tripp 38 racing boat named "Warrior" when we first arrived. Then we luckily met Grant who owns the Tripp, and he invited us to crew with him on the Friday night race. He told us that he just put the Tripp back in the water after a year-long overhaul and could use some crew. Friday came and so did the late afternoon Florida storms. The races were cancelled. (Can't they send some of this rain to Lake Travis??)

That evening Marcella, my best friend from college, and her husband Ed drove over from Orlando to join us for the weekend and we had refreshments and snacks at Fresco's at the end of the pier.

Ray also met a very nice gentleman named Ken at the SPYC watering hole who was a long- time sailor of J-24's and other sailboats. (He mentioned that there are 2 VERY competitive J-29 owners here).

Ray wandered over to the SPYC sailing school the next day to try to locate some of the folks from Eckerd College and USF that he hosted at his house during the College National Championships. On the way back he met a couple that owned one of the 29's and had a nice afternoon visit. It turned out they and Ray have 3 or 4 mutual friends from the J-29 class. They're considering installing an asymmetrical spinnaker on their boat and Ray was glad to share details on how he installed the first one on his beloved J-29 on Lake Travis. (Hey, Blake. Ray hopes you are enjoying "Mostly Harmless" and we wish you and everyone else at AYC great sailing and "more rain" on the lake! )

We visited a unique sidewalk café called Cassis, for lunch. It was warm out so we decided to go inside. We stepped from the concrete sidewalk with umbrellas to an interior with more umbrellas, plus surfboards, plus volleyball nets and about everything that could be associated with a beach INCLUDING about 10 inches of sand on the floor of the entire place.

We wandered around and then went back up to SPYC and sat next to the poolside tiki bar for a while. The daily afternoon rain shower came barreling in a couple of hours later. After the storm it was a very quiet night.

We visited the Dali Museum on Sunday. This is known as a "must see" in St. Pete. I knew Dali was an unusual person but when our tour guide provided details of his art, and what some of his concepts actually meant, it just got a little too weird for me. (I could have done without most of those explanations. And, can someone tell me what planet he came from?). At least I can say I went to the museum.

Marcella and Ed were supposed to leave that afternoon. But after they told us they "just remembered" it was their 23rd WEDDING ANNIVERSARY that day, (huh??!!!?), we talked them into staying one more night and we went for a sail in the bay and had a GREAT TIME!

We had coffee with them Monday morning and waved bye. Marcella and Ed, we miss you two already!

We came back to Irregardless and I decided to take a nap. An hour later, Ray said "I helped a boat come in. You should come up and see it." Okay, another boat, I'm thinking. What could this one be? I walked up, turned around, and I was set back a bit. We had an 85 foot long, 35 foot wide catamaran yacht right behind us. It was an incredible sight and I'm glad the captain was able to safely maneuver it in so close to us. I got Ray to hoist me up in the boson chair so I could take photos. This yacht was named the Hay Fu II. The owners, three lovely ladies, and their 3 person crew were aboard and they were taking the Cat from the Bahamas back to its home port in Pensacola.

Have I mentioned how friendly all boaters are? They were truly delightful Southern Ladies!

We saw a kayaker paddle underneath their boat between its hulls- they told me it wasn't the first time.....

We spent part of the evening chatting with them about cruising and such. They were here for two nights and the second day before leaving, they invited me to go down to the beach for a quick swim. They had about 30 minutes before their Captain wanted to head out!

I took about a dozen more photos as the beautiful Hay Fu II maneuvered its way around a school of approximately 30 kiddos practicing in their Optis. I could only assume that the Opti kids' coach may have been a bit "nervous."

Bill Colletti from Austin contacted Ray earlier in the week and told him he comes to the area frequently and might be able to stop by. When he got to town we had a nice visit on the boat.

The next day we had lunch at the Parkshore Grill. I highly recommend the "crab tower."

We walked down the historical the St. Petersburg Pier. This is a nice stroll down to the odd shaped building that has been closed due to "structural" problems. It was built in the shape of an upside down pyramid so that may explain some of the issues. There was a lot of fanfare when it opened in 1973 and it housed many restaurants, tourist attractions and provided a great panoramic view of the bay area.

When the "problems" were discovered it was determined the city might need to contribute $100 million or more to help repair the problems. The building was closed to the public last year and either an expensive rebuild or a demolition is planned. There is a large ongoing political battle over what to do with the iconic inverted Pyramid. It sits vacant but is still considered an historical landmark to walk up to and gawk at.

Very close by is a private airport for small planes that is also the home to a "flying banner" advertising company. It was pretty fascinating to watch the prop planes take off, circle around and dive down to hook the streamers that were suspended between two poles. Once they grabbed them they literally had to fly straight up about 500 feet to pull the streamer and the banner out of its crate and then level out with flying ad in tow. Once we watched a pilot come in and he missed hooking the streamers. He had to circle back around then caught the line the second time. I'll bet when that happens they get razzed a bit from the other pilots and the guys on the ground!

Ray happened to meet another new friend, Ed from Corpus Christi at the end of the dock. He has an Irwin 38. He came over that evening for a very nice visit and even brought us some black fin tuna that he personally caught in the gulf. He is headed to the Keys sometime next week. We hope to meet up with him again.

My sister was in the Tampa area for meetings during the week and drove over to visit us on Friday. She and I went out for a nice dinner since Ray finally got to race with Grant and crew on the Tripp that evening, and the "Warrior" won the race! Yeah! My sister and I got some great photos of the crew celebrating as they motored over and "buzzed" Irregardless. We took my sister sailing with us in the bay on Saturday before she headed back for Tallahassee.

On Sunday, Ray summoned me to see another boat arriving at the docks. Her name is Lady Ivory and at 103 feet, she was slightly larger than Hay Fu. She was also a more traditional single hull yacht and a bit older. If anyone is interested she was recently up for sale at a bargain price of about $4 million.

We were planning to depart Monday but Ray decided to take on a "project" early Sunday afternoon involving the squeaky hatch to our companionway. He ended up having to take half the boat apart, it seemed, to get to and replace the gasket around the hatch. Stop reading here if you don't want all the details but here goes:

To replace a one inch rubber gasket that half encircles the hatch the traveller must be removed. To do this you have to get to the bolts that hold it down, of course.

To get to those bolts Ray had to remove the entire interior headliner in the salon. Removing the traveller was required so that he could also remove the hatch deck cover that covered the front part of the gasket.

This turned out to be a royal pain for Ray! I think he spent at least 4 hours trying to pry the cover off. It was literally cemented to the deck. So using his engineering acuity he disconnected the main sheet from the traveller, attached it on one side of the cover and used the winch on the mainsheet to pry it loose. Ray was a bit concerned, as he was applying more and more pressure on the cover, that he might possibly break the thing in half. Once the line had (only) about 5 or 600 POUNDS of load on it - WHAM! The cement/glue seal broke loose. It was loud.

He then had to remove the other side. Same story but the Beneteau folks apparently applied more of their "cement glue" on this side. He used a small thin saw to cut through as much as possible, tried to use the winch again to pry it apart, but it still didn't give. Finally, he used my hair dryer to heat things up a bit, applied more tension and BAM!, the other side popped loose. (This was also very loud.) I considered taking cover behind something, somewhere.....

So, all of this just to get to a one inch gasket. He replaced the gasket but then everything had to be put back together. Ray used a different, but sufficient, glue under the hatch cover in case this needed to be done again.

NOW finally, the squeak and drag to open the hatch cover was eliminated. At about 10:00pm Ray triumphantly said, "It's now smooth as butter." YEAH!

I helped him re-install things and he finally tucked away his tools around 11:00pm Sunday evening. We decided to take it easy another day and depart for Sarasota on Tuesday instead of the planned Monday.

On Monday morning we went for a walk and then just needed to do a few things to prepare for departure Tuesday.

On Tuesday we filled the tanks, checked everything out, dropped off the marina gate keys and headed out into Tampa Bay. We sailed out again and then passed under the impressive Sunshine Skyway bridge and waved goodbye to the St. Pete/Tampa area. We arrived in Sarasota Tuesday afternoon, June 24, after an uneventful trip in the ICWW. We plan to stay here a couple of days before departing to our next stop along the Florida Gulf Coast.

Chapter 4 - More Panama City

06 June 2014 | Panama City, FL
Author: Sandra
WE'VE BEEN HERE IN LOVELY PANAMA CITY FOR OVER FOUR WEEKS...!

It's not that PC is getting old. Irregardless just wants to move on and actually DO SOME SAILING and We Do TOO!

We've had some REALLY INTERESTING TIMES here and it's always great to meet so many new friends.

Need to tell you about Captain John. He owns the "Lizzy J" and is a third generation commercial fisherman here. (Of course Ray got the entire scoop on the fishing trade here and with its ever-changing rules and regulations on what they can catch - fish type, size, quantity, season!) we learned it's a tough business so you really have to have it in your blood.

I was telling Capt. John that Cobia fish was the "big thing" in Biloxi. He scoffed, said some derogatory words about Cobia, then declared "Trigger fish is the best fish you could ever have." He then summoned one of his crew to fetch a "Trigger." His crew member brought out a fish that looked like a flounder but with eyes on both sides and teeth that could easily take your finger off. Capt. John grabbed the fish, fileted it in about five seconds and sent me back to our boat with the "one of the best fish I've ever had."

Ray liked it too and we took over a bottle of Pyrat rum as a thank you. He accepted the rum, then pointed behind him and said "Don't feed THEM", referring to his crew. He runs a tight ship.

Capt. John took a liking to us and drove us over to the market where he sells his fish, gave us a full tour and said "pick out whatever you want, you'll get my price." And we did - less than half what we might have paid if it wasn't for his hospitality! We brought back Trigger Fish (my new favorite), Tuna, Grouper Cheeks and Crab Fingers. We were really feeling like "locals."

We met Tom and Marsha who happen to be from Houston, and are heading south tomorrow a few hours behind us on their beautiful trawler. During the course of one his conversations with them, Ray learned that they had two cats that were being taken care of by a friend at Lakewood Yacht Club. She also happens to be the truly wonderful person who adopted my cat! (Margie, I am forever grateful for you and I know Littlebit is too!)

We then met Colin and Jan (from New Zealand and Ireland, respectively), Colin and Jan have two boats, one sailing vessel and one motor boat. The motor trawler is called "Irish Mist" and has a sign on the dock that says "parking for Irish only - violators will have BAD LUCK." I liked that one.

We also met Bob (who has very nice fishing boat called "Hot Mix" right next to us). I thought maybe they named their boat after a some sort of healthy snack. Ray explained that "hot mix" is a form of asphalt they pave roads with. I had no idea. Bob, of course, has a paving business....NOW it makes sense). Bob treated us to Red Snapper and Grouper filets almost every day they went out. Our freezer is full.

MEMORIAL DAY WEEKEND!!

Ray decorated Irregardless with ALL the colors we had - especially the large Texas flag - and then we thoroughly enjoyed watching what Ray called "some of the worst of mankind (or boatkind )" as they tried to bring their seldom-used boats to the fuel docks just across from our slip. Most used the "slam into the slip and grab on to whatever you can" method in order to stop at the pumps. (It was full throttle forward, full throttle reverse and so on and so on). One time I went below for something and Ray called out "Get up here quick! You don't want to miss this one!" Several guys then proceeded to crash into the Betsy Ann Riverboat. Wish I had my camera ready for that one. Later in the day we noticed that the marina added orange paint to the piers to at the fuel stations with large numbers (1 and 2). Some folks were confused about which pumps they used - left or right. They may have started early on the beer.


"JUST THE COOK" CHEF ERNIE FEATURED ON THE FOOD NETWORK AGAIN

Yep, the camera crews rolled in and Ernie invited us to join the entourage in the bay. He was really nervous the evening prior because at 10pm he was still waiting for his new engine for his floating restaurant to be "delivered." As expected, this did not happen and they towed his pontoon restaurant out into the bay. They did drop the tow line briefly for a few shots of Just The Cook gliding through the water (unlike the J-boat in the Viagra commercial of a few years ago). For those who saw that one you may recall the "macho" man who was "sailing" was not only being towed but the jib on his boat was fully backwinded.

We had "all our flags flyin'" for the day, and Ernie personally delivered and served us lunch with camera crews filming. Now that was pretty cool. Ernie is going to let us know when the show will air, sometime in late summer.

We went out the next day because Ray wanted to clean the hull of Irregardless before our departure to Clearwater. We anchored, he dove in, and for about an hour and a half I kept watch for any approaching "FINS." All went well but if you keep a boat in Galveston Bay or Panama City, take heed that your zincs will be eaten by the elements in the water about as fast as Ray can eat a cheeseburger. We had about a quarter inch of zinc left before the elements were about to go after our propeller. We got lucky on that one.

TYNDALL AFB

Tyndall Air Force Base is right here and the pilots train almost every day. It has been loud at times but I have learned and seen some interesting stuff from their maneuvers.

They were flying F-22's, C-141 planes and F-4's right over our heads. The Vietnam era F-4's have a distinctive "scream." F-22's have twin tails that point upward. C-141's are, well, large. Can't mistake those.

So I started out asking Ray, "Is that a 4 or a 22?" This escalated into hand signals between the two of us as the jets went over (4 or 22) and I'm getting pretty good at it. The F-4's are used as drone trainers for the F-22's to chase around and use as simulated targets. After 4 or 5 flights with a backup "real pilot" aboard in case anything goes wrong, they remove the pilot, send the drone out into the gulf, and the F-22 pilots get to fire a real missile at the F-4 and blow it up in the air. Ray says that those maneuvers sound really fun and he'd like to try it some day.

We've been here a while and Ray truly indulged me with my visits to my Mom for surgery in Jacksonville and my Dad (he is a WW2 vet), at the Sims VA here in PC. We plan to get an early start tomorrow and head south.

I CAN'T LEAVE OUT THE PELICAN BREAKFAST CLUB!

Every morning at about 7am this club meets at the dock across from us that leads to Uncle Ernie's Restaurant. I've counted over 50 pelicans at times. They meet and seem to converse with each other for about an hour and then head out to hunt, gather around fishing boats and whatever else they do. Quite the sight and right on time every day!

Yesterday we met a young couple (30's?!) who have a canvas business and want to head out with their kiddos and explore the seas. They are new to sailing and are a bit uncertain about keeping their business going or if they will do odd jobs at various places wherever they may roam. But they said, "You just can't purchase the memories that we want for ourselves and our children to experience." We wished them all the best!

So now, we're going to set sail again and I know we could never purchase memories like these or those to come. Life is good.

Check out the photos! Click on the album at the right or copy the link below:

http://www.sailblogs.com/member/noagenda/?show=gallery&aid=29003

Chapter 3 - We have our own "Very Serious" Security Bird

07 May 2014 | Oyster Bay/Pensacola/Panama City
Sandra
Still - IRREGARDLES! and have no agenda

Chapter Three

Oyster Bay to Panama City (Check out the photos!)

After leaving Homeport Marina in Oyster Bay, we arrived in Pensacola on Monday, May 28. Had to go in the Intercoastal so we had to motor it. It only took only 4 hours so it wasn't extremely painful.

We docked at the Southwind Marina. This marina was not as protected as we would have liked (see the photos), but we knew that a front was coming in and decided to hold tight.

On Tuesday morning we saw in the news that the Blue Angels from Pensacola NAS would be practicing that day. (How do these splendid things just "happen" on this trip?) Sure enough we got to "see the show!" They provided us with a great air show for about four hours.

Oh, but then.....................

"Weather" was approaching. After checking all the resources we had, we decided we needed some serious dock security. Ray tied 9 lines from our boat to the docks.

There was only a small breakwater at this marina but then we got lucky. The Lady Chateau 80 foot trawler charter boat arrived! Two guys were driving it back to Minnesota for the summer season. Ray helped them dock and adjust their fenders. It looked like quite a chore (He said it WAS). Turned out to be just what we needed when the storms came. She provided a perfect breakwater for us. We may have been in trouble from the storm waves if she wasn't there.

The Harbor Master, a REALLY nice guy (of course, most all boaters are) asked if we wanted to stay at his family's home across the street for the night with the impending storms rolling in. He had a nice size RV parked right outside and we could ride out the storm in it. We thanked him but opted to stay with Irregardless.

The heavy stuff started about 6pm.

Soon the boats around us were rocking like mad. The winds, thunder and lightning and rain lasted over 16 hours. I've never experienced lightning and thunder every 30 seconds all night long.

The water level around us was coming up and Ray readjusted our dock lines twice during the middle of the night. He got the life jackets out of the locker in case anything we were tied to didn't hold. If something did give way, at ours or anyone else's boat, it would have been ugly. I asked Ray if our insurance was up to date..................

The next morning we looked out and saw that the water had come up over 2 and a half feet. The docks were torn up in a few places and one was about a foot under water. Amazing stuff.

We turned on the TV and couldn't believe the news. Roads, bridges and even the interstate got pretty torn up from the flood waters. Businesses were closed because no one could get to them (unless they had a boat). There was a convenience store nearby but it only stayed open an hour or two.

We stayed at this marina one more night because the radar showed that there were still small storm cells in the area.

We departed the next day at about 8am for Panama City. Under full sail we made it by midnight or 2am or something like that. We docked in the St. Andrews Marina in the historic St. Andrews District just outside Panama City Beach. This is a very pristine marina with great amenities. I had scouted other places when I visited my family here last year and in my opinion this was the nicest in the area. Check out their website! Lots of restaurants, and quaint shops in the area are within walking distance. They also have some really interesting "dive" bars/restaurants close by. (In our opinion the least pretentious places have some of the best food - just our opinion).

We got here just in time for the annual Thunder on the Beach Motorcycle Rally weekend. It was estimated that there were 100,000 people in town for this event with their bikes, and as you can imagine LOTS of festivities! Woo Hoo! Lots of things to gawk at!

We plan to stay here a couple of weeks or so and needed to get a rental car. After checking the internet we found that most of the rental places were sold out. I think they sent a lot of their cars to Pensacola. We discovered that the local Toyota dealer rents cars. Soon we were "styling" in a midnight blue Corolla - right along with all those Harleys. The car does have nice looking wheels ...............matches my purse too.

With sugar-white sand and green and blue waters, Panama City Beach is still one of the most beautiful beaches anywhere. My mother owns a condo right here on the beach and we may stay there a night or two, but I'm still content on our own floating condo.

On Saturday, my sister and brother-in-law drove over from Tallahassee. We watched the Kentucky Derby at the condo and they came over to see the boat. We thought we might order carry-outs and dine in the cockpit. After 15 minutes they were both becoming a bit queasy (in the slip!). Change of plans. They ventured back to the condo to spend the night and we went over to the Captain's Table restaurant and picked up some gumbo. This was a very good choice. Great gumbo (we've been there twice so far) and the rest of the menu looks really good. We'll be going back again.

On Sunday we went back over to the beach, to visit my sister and went to lunch at Schooner's (the VERY LAST locally owned beach bar in Panama City). Condo builders and others have tried for years to get the owner to sell but he always said no. A very hip place right on the beach is now nestled between two high rises, but it is still very popular and it is NOT going anywhere.

We sat at a table by the rail and watched all the happy sun-bathers and a true professional kite enthusiast. Using both hands, he was flying a string of about 12 multi-color delta shape kites and showing off some impressive aerobatic skills. Ray mentioned they have competitions for this.

Hmm, what to do after lunch....FLY KITES! We went back to the condo and dug out two kites that had been in one of mother's closets forever. Ray handled the assembly. One delta kite flew effortlessly after Ray added a longer tail while the other, (which RAY also assembled by the way), a box kite shaped like an airplane continuously crashed and burned when it got ten feet off the ground. Ray and my sister spent about an hour trying to get this thing to fly. Ray decided the kite also needed more tail for stability so he walks over to the trash can because he thought he might find something he could use. (Great.....he looked like a homeless person searching for empty beer and soda cans). My brother-in-law was quite amused as he observed this spectacle from above on the balcony.

So Ray pulls out a discarded boogie board from the trash and used his leatherman to strip the nylon cover from the board to make strips to attach to the plane. It didn't work. They spent about another hour re-configuring the attachment of the kite string and the tails. These were all valiant aeronautic engineering efforts but, well you can probably guess. The defective airplane joined the boogie board in the trash. My little delta kite, however, was happily flying above. (Note to our friend Charlie, the jet pilot - Yes, Ray is a master sailor but he doesn't fly kite planes very well - at least not the defective ones).

On Monday my sister and her husband went back to Tallahassee. We will see them and my mother at the end of the week.

On Tuesday Ray decided he was on a kite "quest." He bought a 2-handed delta and we headed back to the beach. (It wouldn't fly for some reason). I will give Ray credit that "the winds were light." Then we marched back to the store and got a ANOTHER one.......... Halleluiah! This one worked just fine and we sat on the gorgeous beach and flew the kite the rest of the afternoon.

Did I mention food earlier?

Our first day here Ray ordered lunch at the famous "Just the Cook" restaurant, a mandatory carry-out place because it exists in a 25-foot pontoon boat at the edge of the dock. Now this was a "gourmet" food trailer on the water because, (ahem!) the chef/owner Ernie Hall happened to be named the 16th best cook in the country in a competition on the Food Channel. Have a look at this link for a story (with photos) about this place! (Ray had the Diver-Down burger, by the way).

http://www.panamacity.com/entertainment/dining/just-the-cook-is-off-the-hook-1.17308?page=0

Swillly Bowlegs - "a parrot, a pit bull and karaoke:"

We tried this marina area bar after the biker rally ended. It looked a little too busy for us until the crowds thinned out a bit. After sitting down and ordering our food, we noticed a guy sitting outside with a parrot on his shoulder. Aargh!

We ordered our beverages and I went out to investigate. I introduced myself to this interesting local fellow and was promptly introduced to Marley, the parrot. After I offered my finger as a perch, Marley hopped up on my shoulder for quite a while as her owner munched on chicken wings. I guess Marley didn't mind his choice of food.

Then, once again, we stumbled upon a unique situation.

Just after I returned to the table, a (very) large female pit-bull wandered in the back entrance of the bar, looked around at the clientele, then ambled over to our table. So relaxed and sweet, this gigantic dog with a head the size of a watermelon, could have taken my arm off as I patted her. She didn't. She was actually "mostly harmless." Then she politely laid down at our feet. She appeared to be asleep within five minutes. That being said, we were still careful to gingerly step over her any time we needed to move around. She seemed oblivious to it all, and very content to remain where she was. We asked the waitress if she belonged to someone in the bar and she replied that she "thought she was with us." She did wake up to eat one French fry that we offered, and then went immediately back to sleep. I mentioned to Ray that she would make a terrific boat dog and asked if we could consider adopting her. With her menacing appearance (but, again, she was very sweet) she would scare off the any of the "Pirates of the Carribean." Ray said NO.

Finally, our evening at Swilly Bowlegs reached its zenith when they announced that karaoke was starting at 9:00 pm. I was goading Ray to perform a duet and we both asked if they had the song "Too Drunk to Karaoke" by Jimmy Buffett on the list. (It seemed appropriate for the bar.) She checked and said they didn't have it currently, but they could download it the next day if we would come back. The waitress said that normally the karaoke was only performed by the regular group of guys in the bar, and that they really needed some new voices. Looking around, I tried to imagine that group singing karaoke; "something to experience, I'm thinking............"

We're planning to stay here in Panama City for another week or so, visit with my family in Tallahassee and check back in to see if Swilly Bowlegs is able to play our tune!

More to come!

Chapter 2 - No Agenda can be an "Adventure"

29 April 2014 | Jean Lafitte/Marsh Island/Biloxi/Gulf Shores (LA)
Sandra
Irregardless Continues On

Ray says "Don't forget to look at the photo gallery!!!!!!"

Tuesday, April 29 - I think. (And please forgive my casual writing style......}

We left Houma for Jean Lafitte Cove, somewhere east, where we could anchor and relax (once again). We drove out of the mud, then motored through the tightest section of the LA Archipelago Swamp. Still didn't see any alligators but we were okay with that.

A friend we met in Houma told us that the area has a very large population of bald eagles and, indeed, we saw several. They were awesome.

Traveling through the ICWW we encountered a large amount of "pond plants" (aka hyacinths). They covered the ICWW from side to side and we spent a lot of time dodging them.

We anchored at Jean Lafitte at the intersection of the ICWW and a channel right across from a "Swamp Tour Company." I've never taken a swamp tour and don't regret it. We can do these fine on our own. Funny, the "tourists" were wearing earphones to drown out the massive noise generated by these airboats. It looked painful.

We rafted with the Merritts that evening.

So there we were in "safe" and "protected" anchorage. THEN - about 3 am we heard the roar of large diesel engines and they seemed like they might be close by. We got up, went out into the cockpit to sort of "see what was going on" and found we were looking at a FOUR STORY tug pushing THREE 200 Ft. barges right in our face.

Okay I'll rephrase: He was literally 20 feet away from our boat. (I still consider that to be RIGHT IN OUR FACE).

Ray hailed the tug which had come from the ICWW. Problem was he had to make a super sharp turn to get into the channel.

Ray asked the Captain if we should move for him or if there was anything else we could do to help. The driver politely said no and that we weren't in the way. This, by the way, was another one of our "slightly disconcerting" events. Huge tug with several huge barges shifting forward and reverse to maneuver without hitting us. He finally got past and the Captain said "I just hope I didn't disturb you." Oh, NOOO. Not at all. He was very nice since he could have easily plowed over both of our 42 foot boats and only feel a slight "bump."

We have to give Tom and Joy Merritt credit for being able to sleep through the entire one-hour event.

We left Jean Lafitte and waved hello to New Orleans as we passed and continued on to Rabbit Island. I wanted to stop there to see the rabbits but we decided to go on to Half Moon Island which was just a bit further. (The alligators probably ate all the rabbits anyway. Thanks, Brad).

We passed through a lot of chop but Half Moon was well protected and very calm. There was marsh "island" and lots of those laughing seagulls surrounding the it.

The next morning we discovered why the seagulls were laughing so hard and greeting us so pleasantly. We woke to find the mosquito nets around our boat completely covered with thousands of mosquito, nats, flys and other insects I don't know how to identify. These friendly "things" managed to stay with us most of the day as we headed to Biloxi. I swatted at them with a towel for many miles - we endured...............

As we neared Biloxi we were informed that the VERY FIRST RACE OF THE U.S. OFFSHORE POWERBOAT RACING ASSOCIATION WAS ABOUT TO BE UNDERWAY!!! WOW - How lucky and exciting that this was planned "just for "us?"

Shortly thereafter.... we were informed that the channel into Biloxi would be closed for a bit for the racers - perhaps until 5:00pm. Yes, this dimmed the excitement with the thoughts of being stagnant in the ICWW waiting for what could be hours to enter our berth. Fortunately, they opened the channel for 30 minutes at about 2:30pm and we "raced" as fast as we could to Point Cadet Marina at the Golden Nugget. (A very nice marina by the way. Check out the amenities on the internet.)

We even scored the closest slip to the race course. So it was starting to look like things might be looking up again. And they did..........

I'm SO FORTUNATE THAT RAY TIES GOOD KNOTS:

Yes, he does them very well, because when the races started the next day he tied a halyard onto the boson chair and hoisted me just above the first spreader on our boat. I had the "best seat in the bay" watching the racing boats roar by just over 110 feet from my perch. I took some great pictures and was the "spotter " for the folks around us. People stopped by to observe my position and most asked if I was put on a "time out" for complaining too much. Good one... Then Ray tied a Gatorade to another halyard and as I pulled it up to my 30 ft. position "the crowd went wild" - according to Ray. It definitely was a blast to be 30 feet up and right next to the race course!

We met so many people at this event - all fun and festive. We met one couple who knew the guys driving the GEICO boat. This was the fastest one in the fastest class. I noticed they seemed to be slowing on their third lap. We spoke with our new friends at the end of this day of racing who told us that the "Throttle Guy" on GEICO said that the boat was literally SINKING at the end of the race! They finished the race and headed at high speed to the haul out dock.

We don't know what happened but they planned on fixing the issue that evening.

IT GETS BETTER - (and how could it?)

Well, we were informed that the first Cobia fishing tournament of the year was also underway that day. The prize for the largest fish was "only $10,000." I was told by a friendly local fisherman that Cobia is better than sushi for taste and they also fight hard when you try to catch them. Oh, and these were BIG FISH, to me, anyway. For Cobia 25 pounds is small, 40 pounds is hefty but some of these fish even get WAY bigger. Over 50 pounds is a mighty fine fish but they don't stop there if they don't get caught.

About 6:30 pm the fishing boats, all 50 of them, came cruising in right in front of us. We decided to walk to the end of our dock to check out the festivities and they were VERY festive. There were about 200 people watching the fishing boats bring in their catch to be weighed and photographed. I personally took a lot more photos because this was the the first I've seen of this type of event and our second big event of the day.

Two of the most HILARIOUS things of this wonderful day:

1. Winning "Cobia Fish"boat: We thought this might be the case because they cruised by blasting ACDC's "Thunderstruck" and looked very happy. (Ray commented, "With that music I bet they got a big one.") Indeed they topped the previous 65 pounder with a 77 pound Cobia - (This 30-ish guy on the boat was helping carry their prize to the weigh-out and repeatedly proclaimed "Winner-winner Kitchen Dinner!" or Chicken Dinner!" - couldn't make it out.) It appeared he'd been celebrating in advance .

2. An attractive younger woman with her cute baby girl with a bow in her hair stepped up and posed for photos next to the bloody 77 pounder! The little girl didn't seem that impressed. (This was a FISH not a golfer wearing a green jacket at the Masters!)

As we walked back down the dock Ray asked, "Can this day get any better?" The fun and excitement was terrific. My answer: Yes, it may get as good or better as we travel on.

AND IT DID.....................

We FINALLY GOT TO SAIL A FULL DAY!

We departed the next morning and enjoyed the best sailing day since we left the Gulf in Louisiana. We covered approximately 75 miles that day crossing both the Mississippi Sound and Mobile Bay. We found the marina owned by Jimmy Buffett's sister Lucy in the Gulf Shores area for the evening. This area is also known as LA (lower Alabama). We had some of the best gumbo we've sampled so far on our trip, and we have sampled a lot.

Big winds when we got to Pensacola, but more about that later... the wind is howling!
Vessel Name: Irregardless/No Agenda
Vessel Make/Model: Beneteau 423
Hailing Port: Kemah, TX
Crew: Ray Shull, Sandra Helin
About: Two people sailing about with no particular agenda...and it's 5 o'clock somewhere!
Extra: Follow our track https://share.delorme.com/RayShull
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No Agenda-Irregardless, we cruise...

Who: Ray Shull, Sandra Helin
Port: Kemah, TX