Real Women Move

While in Marathon, I received the good news that I have been selected as an ambassador for Skirt Sports for the second year in a row. I love this woman-owned, Boulder-based company that provides high-performance cute workout gear (with pockets!) for women of all shapes, sizes, and ages. I’ve made a lot of friends through this group, and when I moved to Florida, local Skirt Sports sisters welcomed me to town.

I’ve been encouraged to fit exercise and healthy eating into my life by these strong women. And it’s good to know that I can always find a workout partner anywhere in the country. I think it’s pretty safe to say that I’m the only ambassador whose primary sport right now is sailing, lol. But honestly, the same clothes that keep you cool and dry on a run work great in the tropical environment of a sail boat. AND the dresses are really cute!

If you check out Skirt Sports in person at the Flagship Store in Boulder, or on line at https://www.skirtsports.com/ feel free to use my discount code for 15% off full priced items. “41BAEH”

Oops

Have I mentioned we are still learning? A LOT?

Arriving at Dinner Key yesterday, just south of Miami, I called the marina on the cell phone to reserve a mooring ball and to confirm that the channel to enter the marina was deep enough for our 6-foot draft. I thought calling would be easier than using the VHF radio. Well the woman on the phone had a strong accent (this IS Miami) so I had to listen extra closely, and repeated everything back to Mike including the directions on how to find mooring ball 105:

  • Come all the way into Dinner Key channel
  • You are close to the limit on depth, but stay to the middle and you should be fine
  • Turn left, and follow the (something) along the marina
  • When you get to the (something) channel, look for yellow marker Mike
  • Ball 105 is the third ball from the marker

I hoped that when I reviewed the nautical chart, it would all become clear. But it didn’t. We had flashbacks of the GIIW and the Miserable Mile as Mike squeezed through the narrow channel. We were at high tide, so depth was fine, but when we reached Brennan Channel, we saw a small yellow marker, with the letter facing the opposite way. Eventually decided it was C or Charley. But which direction should we turn for M or Mike? Not the direction we choose, apparently.

As water got shallower and shallower, and the boats got closer and closer together, my thought was “these are not our boats ” “This is not where we belong” and “Turn around Mike!” But sometimes turning around, in a 37 foot sailboat, is easier said than done. Capt Mike was a hero, and somehow found a gap between the too close boats in the too shallow water, and got us out of there. I hailed the marina on 68 and got more detailed directions. Turns out we were supposed to turn INTO Brennan channel and motor back out into Biscayne Bay to find water deep enough for our type of boat. Once you know that, it seems so obvious! Back into deep water, it was still tricky finding the exact ball we had been assigned, but we had plenty of room the maneuver, and I picked up the ball on the first try. Phew!

Lesson learned today: when something doesn’t seem right, it probably isn’t. Listen to your instinct and don’t be afraid to back off, try again, and even to ask for help before it’s too late.

We’re all here because we’re not all there…

We had a fantastic day sailing from Key West to Marathon, FL. We weren’t even sure we were going to leave Sunday morning, but peer pressure got the best of us again. At 7:00 am, we had a call from Pat and Melana saying, “Hey guys! Great day for a sail, are you ready to go?.” Oops. We were still in bed. Peeking out the port light, we saw Drew and Sharon on Z-Raye weighing anchor. Mike checked the weather, saw a southeast wind predicted, and said, “Let’s just go.” So, we did!

Once we escaped the crowded Key West Harbor, we sailed on a close reach all day long in winds from 12 to 16 knots. Sanitas did great! We even had a chance to race a bit against Pat and Melana on Tapati. Our top speed for the day was 6.3 knots, which is good for us slow pokes! Eight hours later, we anchored just outside the Marathon harbor, watched the second half of the Super Bowl aboard Tapaiti, and called it a night.

The Marathon City marina in Boot Key Harbor is a very unique cruiser community. As the web page describes it, they provide “everything you need, and nothing you don’t.” Which is great! There’s a community lounge with WiFi, TVs, a lending library, and mail service. Bikes to borrow. Showers, laundry, and an ice machine. A dinghy dock, water, and pump out service. It’s not fancy, but for $123 a week on a mooring ball, you can’t beat it. About those mooring balls. The mooring field is HUGE, with room for over 220 boats. It’s like a gigantic parking lot for boats of all shapes, sizes, ages, and states of repair. This area was very hard hit by Hurricane Irma in September of 2017. Of the 226 boats in Boot Key Harbor, less than 50 survived intact.

Which brings me back to the amazing community. Since the hurricane, the cruiser community has come together to help each other rebuild and repair. Even in the short time we spent here, we developed a sense of the closeness and willingness to help one another out. Everyone welcomed us, offered a smile or a kind word on the dinghy dock, or gave tips on how to handle the laundry, best place to walk for groceries, etc. We were welcomed as part of the community, although we were only transients.

And we got our first taste of cruiser community via the daily Cruiser Net at 9:00 am on VHF channel 68. What a cool way for the inhabitants of the harbor to catch up on the news! Every day, there is a different net coordinator, who acts as the MC, and anyone within VHF radio range can participate in welcoming new arrivals, sending departing vessels off, making announcements, offering to buy or sell goods, and asking for help. We introduced Sanitas to the group and even found a home for the space heater that we finally don’t need! From the Cruisers Net and from spending time in the Marina, we got a sense of the eclectic community of independent souls who choose to make Boot Key Harbor their full-time home, as evidenced by the tongue-in-cheek motto, “We’re all here, because we’re not all there.”

I even went a little bit fangirl when I met one of my heroes, Carolyn Sherlock of The Boat Galley whose blog and Facebook page have provided invaluable advice on how to get started cruising. I’ve followed her advice on gear to buy, tips and tricks to make living on a boat more comfortable, and just generally have gotten an idea of what to expect from this new lifestyle. Unfortunately, we met on the sidewalk by noisy Route 1, so we didn’t have much time to talk, and I forgot to take a selfie (drat!) we we did exchange boat cards, which felt like the epitome of cruiser cool!

Visitors!

My parents spend two months in Florida each winter, escaping the upstate New York snow and dreariness. They arrived the 1st of February, and over a phone call, said they were so sorry we were no longer in St Petersburg so that they could visit. I told them, “We’re in Marathon until Saturday, so you should still come see us.” And they were completely spontaneous and decided to drive six hours to see us. They must really love me!

We had a really fun visit, introducing Bill and Bev to Sanitas, giving them a glimpse of cruiser life…. oh! and using them for their vehicle so we could do our shopping and provisioning run in half the time!

Bev was a real trooper, managing the dinghy ride to the mooring ball and climb aboard Sanitas with aplomb. Guess I’ve got good adventure genes!

It’s not exactly a vacation

Several of my girl friends have told me how jealous they are of my exotic tropical vacation. Well ladies, this post’s for you!

Today we arrived at the Marathon City Marina in the Keys, and it is wonderful! For $123 dollars, we get a week on a mooring ball in Boot Key Harbor and access to the marina facilities, including dinghy dock,WiFi in the lounge, a laundry room, and showers. So I took a long, hot shower for the first time since I left Marco Island eight days ago. Yep, you heard me. Ocho. Now I am not a complete savage. During that time, I have washed my hair in the galley sink, taken sponge baths, and sat in the cockpit under a trickle of cold water from a bag. But until today, I have not had a hot shower. So this was the best shower I have experienced since my last long_distance backpacking trip.

Here is the site of this amazing, even spa-like experience…

And, just for fun, here’s a pictures of the “hygiene center” where we dump the liquid from our composting toilet. Still think a cruiser’s life is glamorous? Lol…

Our First Overnight Passage

When you find a break in the winter weather, you just gotta take it! So, after hiding from 35 knot winds for four days at Factory Bay on Marco Island, we saw a 24-hour period of calmer winds and seas approaching. If we missed that weather window, we’d be staying on the island for another week. Key West was calling, so we decided to go for it!

The trip from Marco Island to Key West is about 93 Miles. To put it in perspective, that’s almost the same distance as St Petersburg to Marco Island. Sanitas averages about 5 knots, so we planned for an 18 hour trip. Do the math…. we’ve only got about 11 hours of daylight, so one end or the other will be sailing in the dark. We decided it is better to start the trip in the dark, leaving a harbor we know very well, and then arrive in the daylight, at a new harbor and a new anchorage so we have plenty of daylight to help with the tricky parts.

So we checked out of Rose Marina at noon, anchored in the harbor, and rested up for our big night adventure. Around 8pm, in full darkness, we were sitting below decks at the salon table looking at charts and weather forecasts, prepping for a midnight departure. When Mike looked up through the companionway and saw A BOAT about to run us over! Well, maybe not quite that dramatic, but it was definitely the bow of another sailing ship drifting into the stern of ours at a slow, but still alarming pace. I think Mike levitated from the couch to the cockpit without touching the floor or the stairs, and literally pushed the other boat away from Sanitas to avoid damage. Apparently the other boat’s anchor wasn’t well set, and she dragged and drifted with the current. We left her captain to sort out his anchor issues, but with hearts pounding and adrenaline rushing, we couldn’t get any more rest, so we decided to simply GO!

From 9pm to about 4am, we still had 15-20 knot winds on the nose and 3-4 foot seas with high frequency waves coming through every three seconds. That made for a bumpy, splashy sail and a good chance to learn how Sanitas handles in those conditions. All the sailing books say that sailing up wind is “uncomfortable” for the crew, and I now understand what that means. I didn’t really sleep on my first rest shift – just bounced around in the V-berth and kept calling up to Mike, “is everything ok?” whenever I heard a new sound. We each took turns being on watch, looking for crab pots, other boats, or changes in the weather. But our autopilot did great, and we really didn’t have any problems. We motored quite a lot, because with the direction of the wind and waves, we were only moving forward at about 1.5 knots without the motor and at that rate it would takes us days to make it to Key West!

On my watch shift at 4 in the morning, I realized that the wind had died down to almost nothing, and the seas had calmed as well – just as the weather forecasts predicted. Pretty cool to see those forecasts come true. I had an almost full moon, and a dolphin leaping beside Sanitas at sunrise. I also had lots of small rain storms, and cold temps to deal with on watch. But Capt Mike pulled the longest shifts and did an excellent job of keeping Sanitas on track and arriving at Key West right about 4:00 pm as expected. Drew and Sharon and Chris and Stan cheered our arrival at the anchorage and helped us get settled in.

We really enjoyed our stay on Key West. The architecture and gardens in the historic district are beautiful, the people watching is fantastic, and all the restaurants have half price seafood at happy hour! We took the opportunity to be tourists for a few days, even meeting up with Anne and Tony again for a delicious dinner at Hogfish Grill on Stock Island. We celebrated to arrival of Bob and Laura from St Pete with a night out on the town at Capt Tony’s and Irish Kevin’s. And then we celebrated the arrival of Pat and Melana. Everyone winds up in Key West! And yes, I can really rock the cowbell. I’ve finally found my musical talent!

We don’t understand electrical stuff

The trip from St Petersburg to Key West was intended to be our shake down trip. There’s a West Marine in Key West, and a K Mart and plenty of hardware stores to buy anything we’ve forgotten or broken. We’ve used this trip to wrestle with our electrical systems. Day after day, we’ve had the cushions pulled up, the batteries exposed, and the voltmeter out. Mike has little drawings of circuits all over his legal pad. We don’t really understand how our 12 volt system is wired, what all the switches mean, and how it all works. They say that admitting you have a problem is the first step toward solving it.

We observed that the starter battery hasn’t been starting our motor. When we turn our Perco switch to 1 which we think means that we are using our starting battery instead of our house battery banks, the motor doesn’t turn over at all. We’ve been working around that problem by using our house batteries to start the motor, but that’s not a good long term solution. So in Marco Island, we measured the current at the starter battery while turning the key in the ignition, and learned that we don’t have enough CCAs or cold cranking amps to start the engine. So we had to plunk down some money for a new 70 pound battery.

We also found that running the engine isn’t charging our house batteries the way it is supposed to. In fact, after running the motor for hours on end during our Key West crossing, we were depleting the batteries instead of charging them. I spent one night shirt with the motor and generator running at the same time! Yuck! On the positive side, our solar panels work great, and we have figured out how to interpret the single blinking led light on each controller to confirm that each panel is connected correctly and charging at a high current or low current capacity.

We reached out to Jock, Sanitas’ previous owner, and he sent us a wonderful detailed email about the electrical systems. But we still weren’t smart enough to understand it! Finally, after another day of messy chaos in the boat and reading smelly old users guides and manuals, Mike got a win. He deciphered the flood of error codes transmitted by the alternator regulator to find that it thinks our house batteries are 96 degrees Celsius- almost at the boiling point of water. Since they are clearly not that hot (we can put our hands on them and touch them) there must be a faulty temperature sensor someplace in the system. It is telling the alternator not to put out any charge for our own safety. Well we showed that stupid piece of metal! We disconnected the temperature sensor! Ha! From that point on, the alternator charges the batteries at a rate of 43 amps. Yee haw! Mike did a happy dance in the cockpit to celebrate.

Now with a working alternator, new starting battery, and fully functioning solar (plus that little Honda generator) we should have plenty of electricity for our needs. Mostly lights, navigation systems, and of course the iPad I am using right this minute!

The Rest of the Way to Marco Island

After our long day of bridges, our next stop was just off the coast of Gasparilla Island. Not much of a stop, just a place to anchor after a long day and to get some well deserved rest. Then a short hop to Punta Rosa, within sight of the bridge connecting Sanibel Island to Ft Meyers. This was an extra fun stop, because Tom and Jeanne Lounsbury hopped in their bother-in-law’s fishing boat and came out to visit Sanitas on the hook!

They were very good sports, attempting a cockpit picnic in the slightly unpleasant drizzle. Lots of fun to congratulate them on their recent retirement, and to hear about their current east coast road tip, and even more exciting plans for a cross country RV extravaganza! Thanks to Don for zipping us over to Ft Meyers Beach for a delicious lunch at Matanzas Inn Marina… this same trip by sailboat the next morning would take us almost 2 hours! I definitely need to get used to slow travel. Also thanks for their ability to find Sanitas again to bring us home safely in the crazy fog!

We finally slipped “outside” and left the GIIW for the relative wild of the Gulf of Mexico. Sanitas was happy to finally cut off the motor and actually sail! After this small taste of freedom, we arrived at Marco Island and found ourselves more or less trapped in the Rose Marina by high winds and seas for the next four days. Foiled again!

We had more visitors to entertain us, and to break up the stay. Mike’s Uncle Brad and Aunt Marcia drove all the way over from West Palm Beach and we exchanged travel stories of their Italy adventures and new retirement lifestyle. They brought us the sweetest gift, a silver wine bottle opener with Sanitas’ name engraved on it!

We had the wonderful surprise of meeting Mike’s mom’s friend’s husband Casey (did you catch all that?) on Marco Island. Casey and Dodie have been splitting their time between western New York and Marco Island for 30 years, and own a lovely home on the island. Casey was gracious enough to take us out to dinner, listen to our excited stores, help chauffeur us to some critical boat repair errands (more on that later…) and even leant us a car for a day so that we could explore more of the island than our own two feet could cover. So far, the best part of this adventure is meeting such wonderful people!