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Archive for the ‘Florida Keys’ Category

For all of our fanfare about finally getting out of Boot Key after a several month stay, we actually didn’t get very far.  Shortly before our departure, we learned that some dear friends Paul and Dawn were starting their journey back from the Berry Islands in the Bahamas and would be in the FL Keys on their way to Cuba.  After an exchange of messages, we decided that with cooperative weather for both, our paths would cross in Key Biscayne, near Miami.  We had a blast hanging out together for a few days while BuBu3 and Cheshire enjoyed the protection of No Name Harbor.  We’d been in the harbor once before (see Exploring Key Biscayne), and Dawn and I certainly enjoyed our daily walks about the state park grounds;  there was plenty of wildlife to entertain us nearby.  This pause was a bit longer though, and we’ve been able to dig a little deeper.

Wildlife of Bill Baggs State Park…

Key Biscayne is an island at the top of Biscayne Bay, a causeway away from Miami proper.  Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park, which includes No Name Harbor, sits at the south end of the island.  North of the park in the center section of the island is the uber-developed village of Key Biscayne.  It’s a fairly bike-friendly stretch full of useful things… a Winn-Dixie, a CVS, some interesting restaurants.  La Boulangerie and Oasis Cafe were our favorite finds of this stop.

The real find however was beyond the village to the north, an 800-acre county park known as Crandon Park.  Once a coconut plantation, in the 1940’s the land that now makes up the park was donated to Miami-Dade county by the family of William John Matheson, yet another American industrialist, on the condition that it be forever a park.  Another bit of land saved from the rampage of south Florida development.  In my humble opinion (and apparently at least one of the Matheson family concur), the county’s  concept of “park” is a bit stretched… i.e. it includes a golf course and a massive tennis center, but also a couple of miles of beach, a marina, a nature center and more than 3,000 parking spaces to accommodate visitors.  We checked out the nature center, and stretched our legs with some short hikes at the park’s Bear Cut Preserve on the north end, eventually working our way south to what would be our favorite section…the Gardens at Crandon Park.

From Bear Cut Preserve… a really cool beehive in a tree, a Green Anole and one of my favorite wading birds, a Reddish Egret.

The Garden is tucked away in the southeast corner of the park.  It’s not well marked, nor is it well advertised.  In fact it was a little tricky to figure out how to access it, but our persistence paid off.  It’s a quirky place, and apparently a well-kept secret.  At our visit, I’m certain there was more wildlife than people, visitors and park staff included.

This bit of the park apparently started life as a small zoo.  Rumor has is that in about 1948, a few animals… monkeys, a goat, a couple of black bear depending on the version of the story you’re reading, were purchased from a circus that was stranded near Miami.  The Crandon Zoo was born, and during the following years, grew its menagerie through purchase and donation.  Hurricane Betsy wreaked some havoc in 1965, flooding much of the zoo and killing many of its residents.  Eventually, in 1980 or so, the zoo moved to the mainland, and became what is now Zoo Miami.  The Crandon location apparently sat vacant and neglected for a long while.  The Gardens of Crandon Park Foundation was formed and initiated the restoration, which was eventually picked up by Miami-Dade County who is responsible for the park anyway.  I’m not sure what the grand plans are, but it’s got some character.

Many of the  old zoo structures and cages remain, although with some of the fencing removed and much mural painting added.  As in most of south Florida’s natural areas, iguana were plentiful, but there were plenty of unusual birds as well.  Indian Peafowl were everywhere, roaming free.  Mostly peacocks (male), but a few peahens (female) as well.  The peahens tended to be a bit more elusive, and consequently more challenging to photograph.  I had no idea that peacocks were so noisy.

A couple of geese (species I’ve not yet nailed down) were pretty annoying, following us around hoping to be fed.  At one point a pair appeared to be holding my bike hostage.  A pair of Sandhill Cranes was another highlight.  Rumor has it that one of the ponds is home to a crocodile; friends who visited earlier in the week got to see it.  Mike saw a snout peeking up while I was otherwise occupied trying to capture (a photo) a Spiny-tailed Iguana.  Several other bird species seem to be successfully avoiding the croc.

As fascinating as the creatures were, I was also captivated by the ruins of the zoo structures.  It was a bit difficult to imagine the conditions the animals were kept in, though an internet search yielded some interesting old photographs.  Meanwhile, today…

 

So, today was a day of preparation as we get ready to depart for destinations north.  We’ve topped off provisioning, gotten the bikes back on board and stowed and wrapped up some small projects.  Tonight we’ll have a potluck dinner along with some other fellow cruisers who are also heading north tomorrow.  In the morning,  we’ll stop by the Crandon Park Marina to top off fuel and water, then weather permitting, we’ll jump offshore for a run around Miami and Ft Lauderdale and see how it goes.

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s/v True North in a No Name Harbor sunset

 

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Fun with Impellers

I had a realization few days ago, while talking with another cruising couple we’d just met. I was recalling  how stupid I felt during our early weeks of learning to live aboard a boat. In a house, I generally knew how things worked, but then things were a bit simpler on the surface. Consider water and power for example. Water spigots, faucets… you turned them on and out came water. Electric outlets and light switches… plug in, switch it on, voila, let there be light, or power or whatever. All in all, pretty simple to operate. I was proud of myself for knowing where the water main was located in our condo and how to turn it off in the event of a problem. Even our gas fireplace was on a wall switch.  And I had no earthly idea what an impeller was.

On a boat, even simple things aren’t so simple. I’ve posted a bit about our water and power systems, but where I’ve been stretched the most is trying to understand the mechanical heart of our Cheshire, her diesel engine.

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impeller

I’ll confess that I have no ambition of becoming a diesel mechanic, but I do feel more comfortable when I have at least some understanding of how these systems work. Mostly I learn bits and pieces as we muddle our way through routine maintenance chores and fix things that break. As I’ve said before, we can afford to live this life only because we have a willingness to tackle most of these things ourselves. I’ll also say again how lucky we are that Mike is so scary smart about how things work. And I’m learning a bit.

Many readers of this blog know that in our lives on dirt, Mike worked for Honda of America. He was a computer geek, but one of the perks of his position is that we got relatively cheap lease cars, with insurance paid and all maintenance done by the Service Center on site at the plant. We kept them gassed up, ran them through a car wash occasionally, and when the little dash light came on that indicated a service due, we scheduled an appointment to drop it off.  Mike dropped it off in the morning, and picked it up again at the end of business.  That was it. Awesome perk. Needless to say, the care and feeding of our Cheshire’s Westerbeke 30B3 diesel engine has been a big learning curve for us.  We’re committed to it though.  I figure if we take good care of it, it’ll take good care of us.

A few years back, after some offshore excitement (more here),  we learned that de-gooping our fuel tanks periodically also keeps the engine happier.  During one stay in St Augustine, we actually pulled both fuel tanks out and “deep cleaned” them.  Mike also added two additional fuel separators in parallel, ahead of the original one.  These filter goop from the fuel before it gets to the engine, and are in a cockpit locker much easier to access for regular maintenance and can be switched and drained while underway in the event of a problem.  Still, goop settles in the bottom of the flat fuel tanks, below the fuel pick-ups, and pulling the tanks out to clean them is more than a small project.  Mike’s ingenuity to the rescue.  He designed a “tipping” system where we can tip the tanks a bit without fully removing them, and use a cheap and cheesy fuel pump system he also put together to suck from the lowest parts of the tanks where the goop settles.  He’d rigged this system for the port tank a while back, but had never gotten around to doing it for the starboard side, until this week.  Except that when we pulled out said cheap and cheesy fuel pump for the de-gooping, it wouldn’t pump.  Apparently a single-use item.  We now have a pricier but more reliable 12-volt fuel transfer pump that worked beautifully for us, as well as for a neighboring boat in the harbor.  It was a several day project to “install” the tipping mechanism, but it should make for much easier work down the road.

Fuel tanks de-gooped… Check.  Next up, an oil change.

While routine oil changes aren’t our favorite boat chore, we’ve done them enough that they’ve become, well, routine.  Every other time we do what we refer to as a “full service” oil change, which involves changing a couple of extra filters.  Spread the tarp out in the cockpit, dig out the bits and bottles we need from various storage locations go at it. If all goes well, it takes a couple of hours, start to finish.  Except for this last time…

While changing the zinc (a bit that corrodes via electrolysis  instead of having other important bits corrode), we discovered that we had a broken impeller (a whirligig bit that moves water through the raw water pump on the engine).  It happens occasionally, which is why it’s something we carry spares of.  Except that we were not aware that when we replaced our raw water pump a couple of years ago, that the old pump had been redesigned and no longer used the same impeller.  So we had two spares, neither of which was compatible with the new pump.  Fortunately, by day’s end, we’d located a couple of the correct ones from a local supplier.  Even better, we were able to sell the “old” spares the next morning to another boater in the harbor who has the older pump.

The following day, our trusty oil transfer pump failed us… the hose just split, like it had been cut with a knife.  Fortunately, a couple of turns of RescueTape had us back in business.

The final step in our routine oil change is to clean the seawater strainer. On our Gemini, this strainer is underneath the starboard aft bunk.  It’s a basket of sorts that’s inline in the seawater intake system, that filters out mud, seagrass, and other bits of muck that get sucked in, before it gets to the engine.  Open it up, rinse out the grass and muck, replace.  Except that when Mike went to replace it this time, it leaked… salt water, leaking inside of the boat.  OK, it was more like a drip than a leak, but still.   Apparently an O-ring decided it’s life was over.  Fortunately we carry spares.

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Full service oil change complete… Check.

All in all, none of the above was major.  It’s just that we’re really really really done with boat projects, even minor maintenance projects.  The Captain is done with having to sit on the floor in awkward spaces.  The Admiral is especially done with having the entire boat in a state of disarray to accomplish said projects.  It’s time to relax, play a bit… talk about where we want to explore next instead of what the next step in the project du jour is.

Now, to see about getting out of here before something else happens. Oh wait, we did that, this morning in fact.  Greetings from Tavernier, FL where Cheshire sits on the hook for the first time in months.  Kind of weird looking out the windows and not seeing our mooring neighbors though.  Another chapter in our adventure begins…

 

 

 

 

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We’ve Got Rain!

…which is ordinarily not an exciting occurrence, but today it’s very exciting.  It rained buckets in January, but as soon as we finished our solar project in mid-February, it stopped.  We’ve barely gotten a drop since.  After near perfect weather over the recent week-end for the Key West air show, this morning we woke to cloudy skies and mid-morning the rain started falling.  Seriously, our neighbors in the harbor have been crediting us with the nice weather of late.  But today we have rain, and the Admiral is doing a happy dance!

One reason for the excitement is that it’s been a long time since our Cheshire has been dockside with access to a water hose, so she was desperately in need of a fresh water rinse.  The other is that it’s the first chance we’ve had since installation to test our rain water catchment system.  Some will remember that the new solar array has some added bits for just this purpose… an aluminum channel across the forward edge and for a short run around the corners with nipples  on the underneath side of the forward corners which allow for slipping a hose onto.  Find details in an earlier post here.

The Captain’s design allows for the option of running the hose to either one of the 6-gallon jerry cans we have on board or directly to the tank fills which are on either end of the mainsheet traveler on the back of the cockpit.  At the tank fill, we use an elbow to attach to another short length of hose that bypasses the vent that’s located a couple of inches down the fill tube.  The vent allows air to escape the water tank as it fills with water, which is a great thing, but I’m not sure whose idea its placement was.  When we first moved aboard, it was a bit awkward, not to mention wet, until we figured out how to bypass the vent.

In any event, we filled the jerry can that was empty and topped off the tank that was low.  We figure we collected about 15 – 20 gallons of water in a fairly short period of time, at which point we were full, but the rain continued.  The Captain is happy with the design, so we’re considering it another project completed and tested.  Check!

Coming up later this week… we’ve decided our Cheshire is needing some serious blood work done before our journey north.  Stay tuned.

 

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… which is Key West’s fancy way of saying “air show”.  I must admit though, it was in fact pretty spectacular.

When cruising friends and neighbors in the harbor, Russ and Jennifer aboard s/v No Ka Oi, invited us to join them for a road trip to the airshow this weekend, we jumped at the invitation.  Not only did it let us blow off another day of boat projects, the show was also free.  Free is a good thing given our winter of never ending and not inexpensive projects.

This Southernmost Air Spectacular took place at Boca Chica Field at Naval Air Station Key West.  NAS Key West has been around since 1917 in some form, but has served primarily as a training facility since 1945.  It was a great day for the show, clear and sunny with a steady breeze.  There were plenty of static displays… including a C-17 that was visiting from McGuire AFB in New Jersey.  These are monster-sized military transport planes.    The boys checked out the seats… deploying with their camp chairs?  I think not.  We skipped the line for the cockpit tour, and most of the other static displays as well in favor of watching the planes in the sky.

While it was a beautiful day for the show, it was a little bright for good photography.  I also found it more difficult to capture photos of mechanical birds than of the feathered variety.   Finally I’ll  admit that shooting (photographically speaking) moving targets is not my strong suit.  In retrospect, I should have experimented a bit with some camera settings before hand.  Mostly I was determined to watch the show, not just photograph it.  Thanks too, to Jennifer for sharing several of her shots, including some of Mike and I.   (You’re welcome, Mom.)  Here are the highlights…

There were several civilian acts, including this Twin Beech 18 flown by Matt Younkin.

A Stearman did a solo flight earlier in the day, and reappeared later with a wing walker.  Yes, that black smudge in both photos… a wing walker, and for the record, she’s way braver than I’d ever be.  (Click on any of the photos for a closer look.)

Mike’s favorite of the day were the Firebirds.  Impressive indeed.  Jack Knutson in his Extra 300/s and Rob Holland in his MXS-RH.

Last but definitely not least were the infamous Blue Angels.  First came Fat Albert (a Lockheed Martin C-130 Hercules) , followed by six Boeing F/A-18 Hornets.  These guys were particularly fast and hard to capture.

 

A stop in Big Pine Key at No Name Pub for dinner on our way back to Marathon was a perfect ending to a great day.

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@ No Name Pub with Jennifer and Russ

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Despite recent blog posts, our time in Boot Key Harbor this winter hasn’t been all work. OK, so it’s been a lot of work, some planned, some not planned, but as I’ve mentioned before, Boot Key/Marathon is a great place for projects. Nevertheless, I’d be remiss if I didn’t capture some of our play time here as well.

Unchanged from our first visit to Boot Key Harbor three years ago is the morning vhf net. Charles, my personal favorite of the moderators describes it as “our own version of pirate radio”. Every morning we can tune in to hear who’s arrived, who’s leaving, announcements about what’s happening in the area. There’s an opportunity to ask for help/info, a buy/sell/trade/give-a-way section and trivia. It’s hands-down the most active net we’ve encountered in our cruising to date, and full of all kinds of characters.

Some things are unchanged from our last visit… a list of weekly activities enough to keep anyone from getting bored, everything from various sports and yoga to dominos and  arts and crafts. Occasionally there’s an outdoor movie night at the Tiki Hut; this year we caught “The Martian”, which was excellent by the way.

I mentioned Captain Jack in a blog post from our visit a few years ago.  Jack is still out and about, still lives on his boat in one of the few dock spaces at the marina.  As before, he picks flowers from the hibiscus bush on site each day, and spends the rest of the day pushing his Home Depot walker around the property, passing flowers out to the ladies.  He  celebrated his 94th birthday back in February, complete with a party at the Tiki.

New since our first visit, there are now NOSE-pickers in the harbor, which is a good thing. Nautical Obstruction Salvage Experts. The marina sponsors a friendly competition to encourage trash clean up around the harbor, volunteers log what’s collected, and prizes are given out monthly for those who collect the most. It’s amazing to me what ends up in the mangroves around here.

There’s a Second Sunday Brunch (potluck) which we’ve caught a couple of times which is a nice change of pace.

One evening a few weeks ago we participated in our first Dinghy Drift.  Think of it as a floating potluck happy hour.  Thirty-three dinghies participated and it was great fun.

The Captain likes nothing more at the end of a project day “trapped on the boat”, than to head ashore for bar food, draft beer and some live music. We’ve been in luck this trip to have several places within dinghy distance of the mooring field that meet most criteria.  At one end of the harbor is Dockside (recently closed amidst much drama).  We weren’t big fans of their food, but they had some good live music going on.  At a Sunday night open mic night a while back, we met Mickey.  Mickey is 98 years old and apparently was a weekly fixture, telling hysterical jokes, singing and playing a mean trumpet.  He’s got some serious dementia going on (confirmed when I spoke with him 1:1 later in the evening), but you’d never know it to watch him on stage.  I wonder how he’ll be impacted by the closing.

More recently we finally caught Fiddle Rock, a famous-in-the-Keys duo that were pretty impressive.

 

Burdine’s is hands down our favorite spot though, with good food and a good selection of interesting (bottled) beers. Cory and Ty play there every Wednesday and I confess we’ve become groupies.  Cory just had an album released shortly after we arrived.  Info here for those who may be interested.

We’ve also caught a couple of local festivals, including the Pigeon Key Art Festival for which we volunteered, as well as the popular Marathon Seafood Festival.  The Crane Point Museum and Nature Center is a well kept secret in the area; blog post to follow.  So, you see, we have done our share of playing.

 

 

 

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