Thursday, March 31, 2011

Our first cruise was now 'in the books' and it was time to head home and catch up with our lives up in Ohio.  Three months was a long time for us to be gone and I think we were both getting a little tired.  We have Maya tied up to a dock behind a friend's home near Fort Myers Beach. She will stay there for the next couple of months while we get ready for the next adventure.

We were scheduled to attend a Defever Cruiser's Rendezvous in Sarasota the third week of March.  This annual event is a chance for fellow Defever owners to confab together to share stories, drinks and adventures.  We always look forward to seeing all of our friends at the annual Rendezvous.  Its a great three day party.

Around the end of day two however, we started to run out of gas.  We had been boating non-stop almost since Christmas and feelings of homesickness were beginning to set in.  Maya had been put to bed, our car was loaded up for the drive north and I think our brains had already checked out from life on the sea.  As we got ready for the final day of the Rendezvous, we discovered our hearts just weren't in it.  So instead of taking the highway offramp for the meeting venue, we kept going straight up I-75.

We haven't made the drive up from Florida to Ohio in a long time.  Being back on the highway sure brought back some good memories though.  When I was younger, we used to vacation in Florida every summer.  During the high school and college years, there were the spring break trips.  Now that I am in my golden years ;>) I am a little nostalgic for this old ribbon of concrete.

A few things have changed over the years.  Yes, there are still senior citizens driving around with their blinkers on and truckers doing 85 mph on your tail.  That part is still the same.  What struck me the most was the flavor of the billboards along the side of the road.

I remember those benign (and annoying) signs for Stuckey's..... "8 Miles Ahead" or Howard Johnson's.... "AAA approved".  Although those signs seemed to be everywhere back then, they were essentially harmless. During this drive up from Florida however, we were bombarded with signs touting "No Scapel Vasectomies" and "Porn Superstores."  The Coppertone Girl has been replaced by scantily clad XXX models.  I even saw one billboard cleverly advertising "Lookout Mountains" as the come-on to their porn shop.

I am no prude, mind you.  But really.  Do we have to have these signs all along the highways?

By far however, the most prolific ads were for personal injury attorneys.  They were everywhere.  Here is a short list of the best 'easy to remember' phone numbers in case I am in an accident:


and my personal favorite:


I am thinking that a fair number of accidents are caused by people reading those annoying signs and not paying attention to the road.  Probably a potential lawsuit in there somewhere.

Anyway, we are scheduled to make our next trip in a month or two.  The plan is to cross Florida at Lake Okeechobee and head out into the Atlantic Ocean on our way to the Abacos.  The Abacos are part of the Bahamas chain of islands and are the closest to the US mainland.  Only 50 miles east of Palm Beach, the Abacos are a wonderful way for us to get our feet wet as we explore the islands outside the United States.  We are very excited about this upcoming trip and already wishing we could leave tomorrow.

Friday, March 11, 2011

We left the crystal clear waters of the Florida Keys behind and started our way back north.  The "Season" as they call it down here is on the wane.  The snowbirds, having had their fill of tequila and hubris, are making their way back to the thawing permafrost of middle America. 

We left Marathon a little before the rush.  Having some work to do on our teak railings, we needed access to shorepower and city water to complete the task.  The plan was to take a slip in Marco Island for two weeks where we could take our time and finish the job right.

The trip up from Marathon is usually a two day affair.  We were in no hurry and wanted to check out some of the local flora and fauna, so we did it in three.  First stop was the Little Shark River.  Ideally situated halfway between the Keys and the Mainland, Little Shark is in the middle of a mangrove patch, a long way from nowhere.  There were no bars of any kind.  No cell phones bars, no internet bars, no beer on tap.  That was okay though.  It was good to get back to nature and just bask in her enormity.

So we pulled into the anchorage around 2 o'clock and enjoyed the lapping of the waves against the hull and the callings of innumerable birds.  By three o'clock we were into our first beer and by four we were looking at our now depleted cache of videos wondering what were we going to do for the next 18 hours?  We decided to watch a horrible movie called "The Dog Problem" (it went straight to video) and pray that we fell asleep by nine.

The next night was a little better.  We were anchored just outside of Everglades City.  It is the last outpost of civilization before one makes the crossing from the west coast of Florida, across the swaps to Miami.  We knew there was life there as all day long, a steady stream of fishing boats came in and out of the pass that leads to the city.  Our plan was to go and visit the very famous Rod and Gun club for dinner.  A mecca for sportsmen, the Rod and Gun Club has been around for almost 100 years.  Big game fisherman make the pilgrimage at least once in their lives to pay their respects (and high prices) to those anglers who have come before.  The place looks like a TGIFridays, but instead of license plates on the wall, they have giant dead fish.  Anyway, we didn't make it in.  The winds were so high that day that we couldn't get the dinghy in the water.  It was a four mile run from the anchorage to the restaurant, so we would have been drenched on arrival anyway.  So, discretion being the better part of valor, we ate cereal for dinner that night.

The next day we triumphantly made it into Marco Island.  From about 15 miles away, we could begin to see the gleaming white towers of condos off in the distance.  Like magic, our cells phones and air card came back to life and we were once again among the living.  Or so we thought.

Marco Island can best be described as a haven for the over 80's crowd.  I have never seen so many senior citizens in one place in my life (and Kim worked in a retirement community)!  The restaurants are like a funeral home with bar service.  The giant screen TV's behind the bar don't show the big games.  They show Wheel of Fortune.  If an ambulance with sirens blaring passes outside, you can hear the patrons whispering..."I bet thats Maury.  He didn't get his flu shot."  It was going to be a long two weeks.

So while we busied ourselves with the teak project, we also got accustomed to life in Marco... or 'Shuffleboard City' as I called it.  They have a lot of rules down here... and a lot of people watching that you don't break any of them.  Our grocery store in Ohio has an express line for those who have 20 items or less.  The stores down here cap their item count at 10.  So unknowingly, I got in line with a few too many items. Well a hush came over the store.  All you could hear was the hum of Musak and pacemakers.  Then came the stares.  Not the furtive glances we give up in Ohio.  These were the stink eye, in your face, if looks could kill stares.  And they were all looking at me.

At first I didn't know what was going on, but I knew something was amiss.  I looked around thinking that maybe "Maury" had come back to life and was seen over in the incontinence aisle.  It seemed though, they were all looking at me.  At first I felt pretty cool.  Here is a reasonably young guy, in fairly good health, visiting their local establishment.  I must have looked out of place to them.  Maybe they were just trying to remember when they were in their prime and Ike was president.  Who knows.  But they were definitely looking my way.

Finally it was my turn to "check out"  (by the way, they don't use that term in the grocery stores in Marco...its too close to home.)  As I unloaded my cart, the checkout lady advised me of my blunder.  Aha!  That was it.  It was me...over the limit.  Well, I apologized the best I could noting to her that I was from Out Of Town and didn't know any better.  She didn't care.  I think the 'incident' livened up her usual dull shift.

Anyway, as I left I could hear the old farts whispering among themselves and looking at me.  In a final act of defiance though, I exited through the entrance doors and didn't return my cart!  Maury would have dropped dead on the spot!


Wednesday, March 2, 2011

One of the favorite things we do on the boat, almost every day is enjoy 'happy hour'.  I am not sure who coined that phrase or exactly what it means.  For us, this time doesn't make us any happier, as we are generally in good moods anyway.  And, lord knows our sessions normally last much longer than one hour, however for the sake of clarity and to keep with social colloquialisms, we will refer to our afternoon respites as HH. 

Here in the Florida Keys, there seems to be this fascination with the daily sunsets.  Admittedly they are beautiful.  The cloudless sky and aqua blue waters coupled with the setting sun does make for spectacular vistas.  The local custom around here though is to set your watch (who am I kidding... no one wears a watch around here...) so that when the sun is coming down on the horizon, you drop whatever you are doing and race out to watch the last vestiges of the vesper light.  As though they are paying tribute to the sun god Ra, locals blow their conch horns the instant the sun touches the horizon.  Some say that if you watch carefully you can see a green flash as the sun and earth meet in the final stages of daylight.

I haven't quite gotten onboard with this local custom.  When I hear the daily conch horns blowing, it generally means that I am about halfway through the evening's bottle of wine.  That whole thing about the green flash I think is just folklore.  I think half the population down here is suffering recurring bad trips from acid they did back in the 60's, but who really knows.  I have never seen this elusive flash, but I have made myself available to it.

So every afternoon when the shadows grow long, we meander up to the flybridge where our daily ritual begins.  We set up our little nest, complete with the RDA of wine, cheese and olives (I checked with my doctor.  He said daily glasses of wine are actually heart healthy!) and wait for the horn blowers to start their rackets. The cacophony begins as the bottom arc of the sun touches the surface of the water.  Within seconds, the groundswell of conch blowers grows to a fevered pitch. The noise is almost deafening.   For almost a full minute they celebrate the end of the day....or in my case the midpoint of HH. 

So in the spirit of local customs, I am trying to convince Kim to join me in starting a new tradition here in Boot Key Harbor.  We have found ourselves getting up much earlier in the morning than we did back in Ohio.  (I think it is mostly a function of going to bed at nine p.m. as almost everyone does around here.)  My thought was that we should also celebrate the beginning of the day with a ceremonial blowing of the air horn.... no conch shells for me, thank you.  Precisely at first light, I want for everyone to go outside and make some noise.  If someone doesn't have an air horn they can use the ship's horn (or the horn on their car if they slept there overnight).  It doesn't matter what is used as long as its noisy.

Kim was doubtful that this 'new tradition' would gain much traction.  As a matter of fact, she informed me that if she heard our air horn making any noise at all, she would start her own tradition.  She said it would be called 'unhappy hour' and like our afternoon ritual, it would be daily and last often longer than one hour.

I thought you might enjoy a short film of the views from our mooring here in Marathon.  Just click on the link to see a short clip of the surrounding area.