Thursday, May 24, 2007

The Florida Keys and Home Again

On March 29th we enjoyed another great sail from Key Biscayne down to the Florida Keys proper and anchored off Pumpkin Key.
Anne and Judi met us in Key Largo on Good Friday and their visit was the highlight of our Florida Keys interlude. We stayed the first three days at Gilbert’s Resort and it was a very interesting place, especially so if you are interested in surveying the consequences of a marina/hotel going 30 years with no maintenance. For instance, the steel doors of the of the marina showers were so badly rusted that an adult, male raccoon could easily walk through the hole in the door and join you in the shower.
At John Pennekamp Park we all watched three large manatees comfortably interacting with swimmers off the beach.
We spent an entire day at Key West shopping and sightseeing and attended the sunset celebration at Mallory Square. The square was jammed with jugglers, musicians, fire-eaters, tee-shirt salesmen, and one escape artist all competing for the attention and dollars of the tourists. I’ll say nothing more about Key West, except that this was the only community, which offered clothing-optional dining, and the moral environment has grown so degraded that even Jimmy Buffet moved out of town.
We enjoyed our best snorkeling of the entire trip with Ann and Judi at the Hens and Chickens reef on the ocean side of Islamorada. The sea floor was covered with living coral, including purple fan coral. Thousands of colorful (and a few colorless) fish swam beneath us. A school of 12-15 large black groupers glided by while I was in the water.
Ann and Judi’s second resort, The Ragged Edge, was much nicer than Gilbert’s, and we spent evenings there playing cards by the pool while Annie watched T.V. in their room ( I presume old Shirley Temple movies).
After Ann and Judi departed, we remained at Plantation Harbor Marina and got to be better friends with sociable and generous Dave and Betsy Chase. Our last evening in Islamorada Dave and Betsy asked whether we’d like to motor with them and their friend Rudy to a nearby restaurant. We departed in their flats boat, maybe 17 feet long intended for fishing in shallow water, We flew over the water about 10” off the surface, quite a different sensation after sailing. Annie, Mary Ann and Dave took turns steering.
The restaurant was charming, near Snake Creek on the ocean side. Rudy, a professional musician as well as boat captain sang and played a couple of Jimmy Buffet numbers with the house musician while waiting for our order. After eating, Dave informed us we were off for a boat ride. The check? We never saw it; somehow Dave paid for our dinners without us seeing a thing. And I ordered a chicken sandwich; I could’ve had lobster!
The next day we started north and after an en route thunderstorm anchored that night at Pumpkin Key in perfectly flat water. As we arrived, a large Southern Stingray leapt out of the water twice with loud splashes. As Mary Ann and I sat in the cockpit watching the sunset colors on the calm surface, another stingray swam past the boat cutting the water with his tail. Our last night in the Keys.
Then we began traveling north with nights in North Miami, Palm Beach, Lake Worth, Vero Beach, New Smyrna Beach and finally St. Augustine.
The Saturday ride from Miami to Palm Beach was especially remarkable. On a warm, sunny afternoon we seemed to be sharing the Intracoastal Waterway with all of the tens of thousands of boats/yachts in south Florida. We were literally surrounded with boats ranging from ten-foot fishing boats up to yachts well over a hundred feet in length (and worth several millions of dollars). Some motored at safe speeds while other powerboats roared by at 20-30 knots creating huge wakes for their fellow boaters to negotiate. The usually narrow channel here has steel or concrete bulkheads, so the waves moving away from us bounced off the walls and returned to rock the Peregrine again. Lake Boca (in Boca Raton) had contained only five boats anchored on our earlier trip south, but on this afternoon a hundred boats were anchored there, many rafted together in clusters of young boaters playing loud music, drinking, wrestling, laughing and generally enjoying the beautiful setting.
Our last anchorage, St. Augustine, was one of our favorite stops; we again attended mass in America’s oldest church and enjoyed excellent pizza at Pizza Alley’s. Mary Ann and Sarah believe that the shops here are the best, stylish clothes at reasonable prices.
Finally, it was time to lower Peregrine’s 52’ mast and haul her out of the water for the truck ride home. The crew at Comanche Cove Boat Yard was competent and eager to help (maybe having three pretty women on board made them more attentive), but we were told that someone had to ascend the mast to tie a bowline from the hoist sling to the mast’s lower spreader. This was an important task and since Annie was the lightest person available, she volunteered. She got it right the first time, and the mast came down without a hitch.
The voyage of the Peregrine was over.


I fear that some readers may think that our voyage must have required either great wealth or willingness to go deeply into debt. Not so. Most cruisers are notoriously frugal and live on very little. Certainly, if one must dock in a marina, eat in restaurants every day, and smoke Cuban cigars, if would be easy to go through $10,000+ a month, but if the cruiser anchors in harbors, maintains the boat himself, cooks on the boat, and enjoys reading, swimming, sailing and snorkeling, then a crew of four can be very comfortable on $1,000-$1,500 a month. Some live on much less. For most folks, cruising is much cheaper than living in Toledo.

Concluding Thoughts

I’ve been asked over and over again whether the voyage was all that I thought it would be. No, it was both more than I expected and less.
Cruising to a beautiful, foreign land is a romantic venture. One expects some danger and hardship and one expects to be stirred by exotic beauty. Magazine travel and yacht ads do all they can to market romance. They never include photos of litter, drunks, or the very ugly stray dogs, which haunt the streets of Marsh Harbour. No one expects to throw stones at vicious dogs when setting off for a gallon of milk.
On the other hand, glossy photo ads cannot capture the beauty of sunrise on Man-o-War Cay or the underwater colors of reef fish and coral.
Cruising is also an exercise of hope. The hope is that sometime during the cruise, while watching the sun rise or set, or walking along a deserted, windy shoreline, or swimming with dolphins, I will have a revelation. My faith will increase; I will fully appreciate the miracles of creation. The veil will be lifted from my eyes. Well, maybe and maybe not.
I did learn some things about my family and myself.
We were all able to adjust to living in cramped quarters and respect the needs of each other. There was no grumbling on stormy, cool days. No one got hysterical when we were out in the storm. When the wind was howling and the waves were 7-9’ feet high, no one screamed at me, “You’re an incompetent captain; we’re all going to die, and it’ll be all your fault!!” If they thought it, they didn’t say it.
Of course Annie sometimes complained about being away from home and her friends, but she would complain on a perfect day as well as on a rough one.
About myself I realized that long-term cruising is not for me, at least not now. We encountered many live-aboard couples who had sold their homes and cars and moved aboard a boat permanently. I chatted with one fellow in Ft. Lauderdale as he sipped amber fluid on ice, puffed on a Cuban cigar, and played solitaire on his laptop; he had been sitting at that dock for nearly six months. I think I would either go mad or begin sipping a lot of amber fluid.
Sarah might say that my ambivalent feelings toward leisure result from being raised as a Protestant, but after 30 years of useful labor, the hours of idleness were often burdensome. Any little task was a relief; disassembling the boat toilet, cleaning and fixing it brought great satisfaction (and made the boat smell better).
Still, it was a great trip. We got leaner and browner and stronger, and the Bahamians are generous, honest, Christian people. We got to know many of them in a way that a weeks stay in a hotel would never have accomplished.
Finally, I am grateful to my shipmates. Sam grabbed all the gusto he could and the trip down the coast would’ve been enormously more difficult without him. Sarah brought great enthusiasm and energy with her when she arrived in early February. Annie was almost always a source of joy. I am most grateful, however to Mary Ann. She left the comforts of home behind (including plentiful hot water) and never complained about it. She was always excited by new islands and new adventures, offering her help and encouragement. I think she enjoyed the trip more than I did (even though I never let her fix the toilet) and would be eager to cast off again.
It was a good trip.