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Monday, December 19, 2016

We made it to the Keys!!!

We have officially arrived in the Keys!!!!

We have a slip at the Boca Chica Marina, which is on the Naval Air Station Key West.  Here are some pictures from the past week that hopefully will give you a flavor of our experiences here so far:

The kiddos are arriving tomorrow, so I’m beyond excited to celebrate the holidays with them; undoubtedly, some adventures await us in our unconventional Christmas celebration this year.

In case we don't get a chance to blog again before Christmas, we’d like to wish each of you a wonderful and warm Christmas and a coming year filled with joy and everything and everyone you love.  We wish you were here!!!!!

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Fort Lauderdale and Miami

We have neglected to update our Google map regularly, but I just added the point where we are now anchored.  As you can see, we are a hop, skip, and a jump away from the Keys!!!!

What can we say about Fort Lauderdale?  It was nothing like we expected, but what a cool city!  Some places called it the “Venice of Florida” - kind of cheesy, but remarkably true.  Here’s an unrelated map that shows the prevalence of waterways, which are lined, of course, with incredible homes and every size and shape yacht you can imagine.  

Hopefully the pictures below give you an idea of what it’s like from water level.  Some of the turns are so tricky and the currents so significant that the larger boats need to be guided by two tugs (one fore and one aft) to make it through unscathed.  The first picture below shows the double-tug procedure in progress.

We were lucky enough to get a spot at the Fort Lauderdale city piers where we spent a couple nights, right in the hub of all the downtown night life (view below is me lounging at our dockage).  

I took this picture from atop the closest bridge, and if you squint you can see our boat.  Find the large white boat in the center of the picture; behind that is a large sailboat (notice how tall the mast is!), and Quality Time is right behind that.  And yes, we do feel dwarfed most of the time!  : )

We even met up with some extended family (Mark’s sister’s husband’s sister and her husband).  They gave us a lot of great advice about where to go in the Keys - we believe they’ve chosen a very awesome place to live!

And me hanging out by a giant orb - just because…

Unfortunately, we had to vacate the city piers as they were preparing for their annual Christmas Boat Parade - it is apparently a massive undertaking and a giant city event.  Our very first full day of rain blessed us as we departed Fort Lauderdale, so the pics along the way look a bit gloomy.  We are anchored now off the south end of Miami Beach.  We dinghy-ed to shore yesterday to see some of the sights despite the weather.  The water is a beautiful shade of green, but I don't think the pictures show it well (I'll keep trying to capture it).  We decided to wait another day for the winds to die down before we venture into the Biscayne Bay (much more open water) and towards our adventures in the Keys!

And most importantly, HAPPY BIRTHDAY, DAD!!!!!  : )  Love you!

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

West Palm Beach

Hello y’all and greetings from West Palm Beach!  It’s hard to believe it’s already December 6 - hope everyone up north is staying warm and getting in the holiday spirit.  Only 16 more days until our kiddos arrive for Christmas (not that I’m counting or anything).  It feels awfully good to not be a part of all the pre-holiday mayhem, but I sure miss baking Christmas cookies and making chocolate covered pretzels like we have every year for decades.

Since our last post, we stayed for several days anchored in a charming place called Manatee Pocket (love that name!) near the city of Port Salerno.  It is a busy little harbor with plenty of places for us to explore; parks, restaurants, and stores.  A sailfish tournament was going on all weekend, so we saw all the huge sport fishing boats coming and going from the marinas close by.  The town hosted a Christmas Boat Parade, and we had inadvertently anchored in a primo spot for viewing from our fly bridge while we cranked up the holiday tunes (another one of my favorite parts of the season).

I hadn’t mentioned it before, but Mark had become dissatisfied with the amount of dinghy propulsion power we had using our electric trolling motor - range was good but thrust was apparently inadequate for his tastes (must go faster……).  He had periodically been searching Craigslist ads in each city we visited, with no luck until Cocoa.  As luck would have it, he found just what he was looking for, and the seller lived only 3 houses down the street from Uncle Jack - it was just meant to be.

Of course, Manatee Pocket was the perfect place to try out our enhanced dinghy with the new (to us) Honda 4-Stroke 5 HP outboard motor, so we confidently took a long dinghy ride to a little park on the other end of the cove on a beautiful, sunny afternoon.  Just prior to tying up at the park, Mark noted a change in engine tone and was initially puzzled by what had caused it.  As it turns out, the engine oil drain plug had apparently shimmied loose, and we had unknowingly been christening Manatee Pocket with freshly changed oil on our travels.  It was quite a long and slow row back, and led us to the secondary challenge of figuring out how to replace the relatively inexpensive (but incredibly valuable to us) bolt - more on that later.

Also, the engine valve cover leak onboard Quality Time has continued unabated despite the new gasket installation, to Mark’s consternation.  Apparently the newly replaced gasket had not remained perfectly in place during the installation process, resulting in small gaps through which oil could escape.  A plan was developed involving gasket adhesive (as Uncle Jack had wisely recommended previously), which would also be a challenge to procure (for less resourceful and determined souls).

We arrived in West Palm Beach yesterday (Monday), and needless to say, it is beautiful down here.  We scored a perfect anchorage at the heart of downtown by the city docks, so all the excitement is just a short dinghy ride away.  Apparently, before I awoke this morning, Mark had taken the dinghy to the pier (with bike on board) and had then pedaled himself to an auto parts store in town to buy the needed gasket adhesive.  A new oil drain plug for the outboard motor is also scheduled to be delivered to a nearby UPS store (we are very big Amazon Prime fans) later today.  Another bike ride to pick it up, and both problems should hopefully be solved.  Here’s hoping!

And we have to give a shout out to the city of West Palm Beach for having the most amazing Christmas light display we have ever seen.  There is a huge sand sculpture of a beautifully detailed Christmas tree (named, of course, Sandi) that took 600 tons of sand to create.  The downtown park area has been transformed into a festive wonderland, with holiday music and synchronized lighting that is just unbelievable.  What a spectacle!!!!!  And it feels a lot more like Christmas to us now : )

Well friends, we will be continuing southward tomorrow, likely stopping in Fort Lauderdale or Miami before long.  We’ll chat with y’all from there - thanks for sticking with us!

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Central Florida Coast

Alright, it’s settled - I like Florida.  I had pictured the ICW here as miles of remote swamp, with creepy overhanging trees (from which any number of poisonous creatures could drop at any moment), alligators stalking the boat, and swirling clouds of mosquitoes awaiting our arrival.  Very pleasantly surprised to find the intracoastal waterway has been incredibly scenic and surprisingly bug-free this time of year.  So many beautiful waterfront homes, but also quiet natural areas.  My pictures can’t possibly do it justice.

After leaving St. Augustine, we anchored two different nights (once by Daytona Beach and once in Titusville).  There was a fun BBQ/outdoor bar within a dinghy ride of where we anchored in Titusville - we got to listen to amazing live music all night (and had a great dinner there).   A perfect place to anchor!

After a very short trip the next day, we arrived at a marina on Merritt Island (Harbortown Marina), in between the cities of Cocoa Beach and Cocoa.  We decided to stay at a marina so it would be easier for Mark to replace the engine valve cover gasket (which had been slightly leaking) - mission accomplished, by the way, but Mark will of course keep monitoring to ensure the leak was indeed dominated.  I managed to take a picture of one of the many manatees we have seen, although they apparently are not very photogenic - it is the blob barely visible in the center of the picture (I’ll keep trying to find a more friendly and cooperative manatee, though).

But of course, the best part of the stay in Central Florida was visiting with Mark’s Uncle Jack and Aunt Patty, who live in Cocoa.  We were treated like royalty, with delicious homemade meals, a huge bed (yes!), warm company, and lots of laughs.  We can’t thank Aunt Patty and Uncle Jack enough for their incredible and VERY much appreciated hospitality.  Uncle Jack kept us in stitches with plenty of jokes and showing us all of his cool gadgets (boat dock and lift, scooter, golf cart, etc.), and Aunt Patty has a heart of gold and is one of the sweetest souls I’ve been blessed enough to meet.  And to top it off, they have THE most adorable dog, Lily, a very charming and precocious rat terrier who kept the warm greetings coming.  It was a wonderful visit for sure, and we will most definitely be stopping here again on our way home in the spring!

But as we are obligated to be in Key West by the middle of this month, we had to keep moving South.  Tonight we are anchored off the city of Micco, which is close to the St. Sebastian River State Park.  Nowhere to take the dinghy to from here, so we’ll have another very quiet and peaceful night on board.  Only one more night of anchoring and we’ll hopefully be in Palm Beach (that’s the plan anyway).

My daughter, Melanie, is helping me add a personalized Google map to the blog, so y'all can see where we've been and where we currently are.  We plan to keep adding to it - for now we just added three points at the beginning of our trip and our most recent couple stops.  Hopefully you can see it!!!

Thursday, November 24, 2016

FLORIDA!!! : )

First of all, we’d like to wish everyone a very HAPPY THANKSGIVING!  Hope yours was blessed with family, friends, and good times.  We have finally found our way to Florida, and so far, the Sunshine State has really lived up to its name.  Weather has been gorgeous and not too hot or cold (yet).

We did make a stop in St. Marys, GA last Sunday and were pleasantly surprised by the changes to this small town.  As I mentioned before, Mark was stationed there from 1995 to 2000 while on the USS Rhode Island and then on shore tour as Squadron Engineer.  Though Mark was quite busy during these years, the kids and I became very creative in finding ways to entertain ourselves in this “quaint” little town.  To St. Marys’ credit, the downtown area has come a long way since we left - it was wonderful to see the city’s plans for a waterfront park come to fruition!

After a few more uneventful anchorages, we have stayed in St. Augustine for the past two nights  in the municipal marina’s mooring field (tied up to a big mooring ball instead of using our anchor).  Lots of dolphins around, and even a few manatees have come close by (no luck taking pictures of them yet despite my best efforts).  We have found the city to be very charming and boater friendly - so many things to do and so little time!  Favorite attractions include the historical St. George St. shopping/restaurant district, tour of a local chocolate factory, the Castillo de San Marcos, and biking across the Bridge of Lions to Anastasia State Park (more sea-shelling of course).  

Today, we were very grateful to be included in the huge Thanksgiving pot luck extravaganza hosted by the St. Augustine Cruisers Net (this was their 4th annual).  Sponsors provided 7 turkeys (4 roasted and 3 smoked - yum) and 3 hams; plus all of the home/boat-made side dishes, it was an amazing and delicious spread.  We met lots of other couples and families, all with various destinations along the East Coast and all extremely friendly.  I couldn’t help but miss my kiddos, family, and friends a lot today; though a reason to be even more thankful for their roles in our lives is always welcome.

Our next notable stop will be a visit to Mark’s Uncle Jack and Aunt Patty in Cocoa, FL - with the promise of a warm visit with family and a bonus of being offered a comfortable bed  (WOW!).  We will definitely post more before long, and we remain grateful for all of our friends reading this - be well, friends!!!!