Dick and Gayl's Cruising Adventures

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We are here for a month, so we have multiple pages of Marathon adventures.  This page covers just over a week -- February 1-8.  You can click on the link at the bottom of this page (at the end of the blue section) to continue to February 9 and later.
February 1, 2007
Islamorada to Sombrero Dockside Lounge and Marina, Marathon
46.2 miles
We began the final leg of our journey to Marathon in 15 mph winds blowing at us from the southeast.  The winds didn't bother us -- they were warm, and we were sheltered by the Keys, so the waves weren't anything of consequence.  The winds built throughout the day, and were over 20 mph when we passed under the Seven Mile Bridge in the only ocean cruising segment on our entire route from Savannah to Marathon.  As we came out of the bridge channel and rounded a mark to turn toward Marathon, we found ourselves rolling in two to three foot waves on our beam.  We held on and toughed it out for the half hour or so it took us to get to the shelter of the channel into Marathon.  (Note:  I checked the time with Dick -- my estimate of the time we spent tossing about in the waves was forty minutes, his was twenty, so the preceding sentence is evidence of a rare compromise.)
We couldn't get anyone to answer our radio or telephone calls at the marina, but we knew our slip number and called out to people on the docks to tell us what slip they were in so we could count our way to our slip.  With a little help from neighboring boaters, we were all tied up at a little after 2 p.m.  Then we headed off to look for the marina office.  We asked a waitress at the open air restaurant at the end of our dock where the marina office was, and she pointed us to the end of the bar.  The dockmaster wasn't in -- he had gone home to feed his dog.  No problem -- the bartender signed us in.  It became clear that placing the "Lounge" before the the "Marina" in the name of this place was not a decision made by chance.  Welcome to Dockside Lounge and Marina, where lounging is a way of life, and the Dockside Lounge is the center of this little world apart. 
February 1-8, 2007
Time Flies in Paradise
Our time in Marathon overlapped by two days with Cincinnati friends Jean and Jim, who have a time share condo here.  We called them when we got settled in, and they stopped over for dinner at the Dockside Lounge here.  The weather was pleasant and the live music was provided by local favorite Joe Mama (who has a day job as owner of Mama Joe's Motorcycle Shop), so the place was packed and loud, which made conversation a bit tough.  But, the "local flavor" compensated for the auditory challenges.
We made up for lost time the next day, when we rode our bicycles over to their place, and we had plenty of time to relax and chat in their cabana by the sea.  Their little community has about thirty octagonal cabanas set like treehouses atop sturdy trunks one story high.  The grounds are lushly landscaped all around the cabanas, effectively camoflaging the density of the units from below, and providing a feeling of privacy from inside the cabana above.  And, practically speaking, the design keeps the living space elevated above all but the most disastrous imaginable storm surge.  We were thoroughly impressed, and charmed by the place. 
Jean and Jim introduced us to a great restaurant in a roadside shack, where we had outstanding grouper sandwiches and beer on the screened-in front porch.  Then we all grabbed our bikes, and they showed us some distinctive neighborhoods with houses ranging from spectacular to spectacles.
After they left, we had a couple days of high winds and persistent rain that left us hunkered down in the boat most of the time, but we did get to meet some of our Marina neighbors. 
Peggy from Bahama Banks delivered a welcome packet from the town of Marathon -- lots of literature and coupons packed in a big West Marine Tote bag.  She also told us about the Cruiser Net, a daily event in the harbor.  At 9 a.m., interested cruisers tune their marine radios to channel 68, and an emcee guides the group through a series of information sharing rituals.  The emcee is different each day, and we have heard that some of the live-aboards only keep track of what day of the week it is by who is leading the Cruiser Net. 
No matter who leads the Net, the ritual is always the same.  First comes the call for boats new to the harbor to identify themselves, then vessels planning to leave.  There is a time for announcements, when the local establishments share their specials of the day and who is providing their live entertainment, and boaters can share information of interest.  On our first day listening, someone in the mooring field announced that the storm had delivered a kayak to his boat, and he had it available to be claimed by whoever lost it.  There is an "Information" time, when boaters can ask those listening for help in solving problems, both nautical and practical. On our first day, a boater needed a recommendation for a good dentist in Marathon, and we heard that the previous day's Net had featured a lively discussion in response to a recommendation for a good beauty salon.  (There were also lots of boating questions concerning parts and engines and such that just went over my head.)  The interchange includes a "Buy, Sell Trade" section, and a "Trivia" time, when boaters challenge each other, and one of the local bar owners throws out a rediculously easy question and rewards the first respondent with free lunch. 
In additon to Cruiser's Net, boaters in the area get acquainted and stay connecred through a potluck Meet and Greet at the Dockside Lounge every Monday.  The Meet and Greet on our first Monday was canceled due to the storm activity frothing up the waves in the harbor, making dinghy travel to the Lounge for the hundreds out at anchor and on mooring balls unpleasant at best. Undeterred by the weather, we bundled up and had our own little Happy Hour Meet and Greet at the Lounge with our next-slip neighbors, Mary Lee and Peter aboard Twin Chariot.
We Find the Perfect Breakfast
Undeterred by 25 mph winds with higher gusts, we hopped on our bicycles, scrunched over and pedaled with all our might in search of the perfect breakfast spot. When we got our New York Times from the paper box in front of Publix, Dick spotted someone who looked like the perfect consultant in our quest -- a Publix cashier on her way into work.  She gave us her recommendation, Stouts, and provided copious directions, which we thought were far too detailed, given that there were no turns involved, just a straight shot down the Overseas Highway.
It turned out her directional overkill was merited -- we overshot the restaurant by half a mile, had to ask for directions at a  couple gas stations, and finally found it on the way back.  It was a pretty unobtrusive building overshadowed by the sport fishing and bait shop next door, and the Stout's sign was only visible from the north. 
Once inside, we knew we had hit the jackpot.  The place was packed with locals talking to each other across the restaurant and calling the wait staff by name.  A breakfast of two eggs, home fries and toast was $2, and the coffee was $1, with endless refills.  
And, to top it all off, we had the wind at our back as we returned to the boat.  We barely had to pedal at all -- we just let the current carry us along.
Dick Dives For His Credit Card
and Other Adventures
We had been here a week when we decided to pile into the dinghy and take a nautical tour of the harbor.  We cruised through the full mooring field, and were struck by how many moored and anchored boats were in a state of decreptitude just short of sinking, their bottoms encrusted with colonies of mature mussels and flowing seaweed.  Later, listening to the cruiser net we would learn that many local workers live on boats in the harbor year-round. It is the most affordable housing option in Marathon, which, like most of coastal Florida, has experienced a surge in real estate prices, and a conversion of rental units to pricey condos.
There are some downsides to harbor living, like having to haul your water to the boat in jugs, filled at a cost of five cents per gallon at the Municipal Marina tap.  And, the most talked about problem, at least this week, is that boats failing to show an anchor light can be boarded and searched by the Department of Natural Resources personnel at all hours of the evening -- no search warrant required.  A recent 12:30 a.m. "raid" was the talk of the Cruiser Net.
After a stop in the Municipal Marina to (1)check on mooring ball vacancies (none anticipated until possibly sometime in April), (2)confirm acceptable anchoring locations in the harbor, and (3)gather other local knowledge from the very helpful and unexpectedly professional and organized marina staff, we continued in our explorations, heading down the Creek toward Sombrero Beach.
Unfortunately, our outboard motor stopped pumping water to cool its engine, a by now very annoying habit it has developed.  So, we had to turn back, and putt putt along slowly in the hopes that we would not overheat the engine before we got back to Starsong.  Just as we passed the Dockside Lounge, a couple on the stern of their boat hailed us, and pointed out manatees near our dinghy.  We turned off the motor, which caused them all to rise to the surface and poke their noses up, as if checking us out.  We drifted and motored alternately, trying to stay far enough away not to bother them, but close enough to watch them.  Then we continued to our boat.
About fifteen minutes after we got the dinghy secured, a pair of workers who were painting and detailing a boat near where we had been watching the manatees showed up at our door.  They asked if a Richard Glover was on the boat.  When I confirmed he was here, they said they had his wallet.  They had seen it floating by their boat as they were working!  They returned it to us, intact minus one credit card which they said fell out when they fished it out of the water, and they said they could see the credit card on the bottom.  They were adamant in refusing a reward, but finally Dick got the woman to accept a small token of his appreciation.
While I laid all the wallet contents out on paper towels to dry, Dick donned his swimsuit and dug his snorkel, mask and fins out of storage.  Then we went down to the boat to retrieve the credit card.  It took Dick a couple dives, but he emerged victorious, holding the card aloft with a big smile. 
When we got back to the boat, looking at a couple hundred dollars and about twenty plastic and paper cards spread out all over the cabin drying, Dick commented that it probably wasn't necessary to carry all that stuff out on a little dinghy ride in the first place.  Might this adventure lead to a leaner loading of the wallet in the future?  We keep learning lessons about too much stuff over and over again.
Later, when Dick was washing the boat, the manatees came right up to our back deck, attracted by the water he was using.  We could see that one of them had scars from being hit by boat propellers on both sides of his back.  Another had a patches of bright pink skin on his nose and forehead, as if he had scraped off a few outer layers, and sunburned a tender layer of skin beneath. It was also missing a chunk from its tail. The third manatee had pinkish grey skin and was smaller than the others, and it didn't bear any scars from clashes with civilization.  Like the other two, it had a light fur of what looked like green algae growing on its back.  
We were mesmerized by our close encounter with the manatees, and shared it with several other boaters who came aboard to stand on our back deck and watch with us.
To learn more about manatees, scroll to the blue area below.
A Perfect Day at the Beach
After our dinghy motor stopped pumping water yesterday, Dick took it apart, found the problem (which by now we should call a "design flaw"), fixed it, and we were ready to try once again to make it to Sombrero Beach.
We slathered on lots of sunscreen, packed a picnic and our bathing suits, left behind most of the contents of Dick's wallet, and motored over to the beach, our outboard water pump working like a charm.
We beached our dinghy, and found a spot on the sand beneath a wide-spreading tree, sharing the shade with a pony-tailed fellow and his big royal blue and sunshine yellow parrot, Kinky.  Kinky had a roost stuck in the sand with a "Kinky for Mayor" bumper sticker on its base.  He attentively surveyed the beach activity from his perch, but he wasn't content to just watch the passing parade. Whenever his owner got engrossed in his book, Kinky would quietly hop to the ground and take a walk.  Eventually the owner would notice, and retrieve Kinky, who would ride back on his shoulder, grumbling all the way.  While we ate our peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for lunch, Kinky's owner fed him king crab and shrimp.
We spent hours lazing in the shade looking out over the clear calm turquoise water and reading our books.  I took my chair to the water's edge and picked through piles of tiny shells to find ones with holes in them for stringing into beach jewelry. 
We figured if we spend too many more days like this we might slow down to Island speed.  So, we vowed to come back again, soon.

Some Manatee Fast Facts
We learned about manatees last year when we took
Grandson Harrison on a "Swim with the Manatees" boat trip on the Crystal River.  Although hundreds of manatees winter in its 72 degree waters, they had already started their journey north by the time we got there on Spring Break.
Manatees grow to nine to ten feet long and weigh 800-1200 pounds.  Some people think that sailor's tales of mermaids were inspired by manatee sightings.  Those sailors had to be very imaginative to concoct a beautiful fish woman fantasy from a half ton animal with a jowly wrinkled bewhiskered snout.
Manatees normally surface to breathe every three to five minutes, but when resting (they sleep half the day), they can stay submerged for up to twenty minutes.
Manatees have no natural predators, but the 2,000-3,000 manatees who make their home in the United States are endangered by human activity.  They are slow movers, and fast boats hit them.  They graze on sea grass and other green plants, and if they accidentally ingest fishing line with their greens, it can get caught in their digestive tract and kill them.  And, our rampant waterfront development is destroying great swaths of their habitat.  If they don't get hit by boats or ingest fishing line or meet other calamities, manatees can live sixty years or more.

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