Our Boat

Caloosa Spirit

Catalina 42 mkII

Log #65 Cruising Highs and Lows

Strong winds have kept us pinned in No Name Harbor for another week. We were beginning to think the gusts would never let up. Four days of continuous 20-25 knots, accompanied by intermittent clouds and rain, has gotten old. But today the winds have moderated, and it’s now time to leave. Besides, another salsa party weekend here is just one weekend too many. So tomorrow it’s anchors up at 7:30 as we head south to Rodriguez Key off Key Largo, then on to Marathon on Sunday.

The stay here has certainly had its high points. Like the two-foot height of the out-of-the-water jumps by a spotted ray that came close to landing in our dinghy. Of course, the camera was not at hand. Paul and Gail of Puffin were visiting at the time, and we were all quite awed by the display, to say the least. A tour of the Cape Florida lighthouse was another high point—literally. The view from the top was stunning, and the story of its restoration was fascinating. We’ve also enjoyed numerous walks around the park, as well as some time outside the park at a couple of the local restaurants. The grilled vegetable pizza at Archie’s Pizza was outstanding.

Cape Florida Lighthouse
Cape Florida Lighthouse

Cape Florida Lighthouse
View of Key Biscayne from Cape Florida Lighthouse

One morning Jim and I went out in the dinghy to assist a young cormorant that looked quite disoriented and seemed to be having trouble flying. We had watched this little guy often approach walkers, fishermen, and anyone else on shore. When Gail had been cleaning their dinghy bottom on shore one morning, the youngster came up to her and poked around the dinghy to see just what she was doing. We found his curiosity and guilelessness charming, but not so everyone. We went to his rescue after some bleepety-bleep kicked him in the head and he appeared to be suffering the aftereffects. We never did get close enough to him in the dinghy to pull him out of the water, but we did encourage him to swim toward the safety of the harbor. He eventually reached the shelter of the mangroves and got himself dried off. We continued to see him panhandling on shore, but he’s also done some of his own fishing. We hope he makes it to adulthood. This is a good example of why we never feed wild animals—except birds and squirrels in the back yard, of course. As for the bleepety-bleep who kicked the young bird, I wish we’d been able to report him. Apparently he didn’t like getting his cell phone conversation interrupted by an inquisitive youngster following him. The human creature never ceases to amaze.

“Look!” I gasped in awe and wonder as the sun burst from the horizon. “I didn’t expect it to do that!”

Yesterday we motorsailed most of the way from No Name Harbor to Rodriguez Key. With the continuous robust northerlies we had been sitting out, it felt as though someone had thrown a switch overnight. We did sail for a couple of hours, making all of three knots, but it was pleasant to have the engine off for a while at least.

This morning we arose before dawn to celebrate an Easter sunrise. The “anchorage” at Rodriguez Key is as wide and exposed as the largest section of Lake Monroe in Indiana, so with any wind from the north or east it can be quite uncomfortable. But what a ring-side seat for a sunrise it provides! Especially in very light winds. The haze on the horizon looked as though it would hide the sun for a while, but we kept watching and we didn’t miss the surprise gift so magnificently wrapped. Once more the Son is risen. Tonight in Marathon we shared an Easter dinner with Gail and Paul. How comforting it is to have dear friends nearby, especially with family so far away.

Easter sunrise
Easter sunrise

With Easter, this week started out on a high note, but it went downhill fast. Over the last few years my concept of cruising has evolved philosophically. In my view any day that the boat floats, the engine runs, and the head flushes is another day in Paradise. Despite the tropical weather here in the Florida Keys, this isn’t Paradise this week. For four days we had a clogged holding tank that refused to cooperate with the pump-out boat. I won’t go into the gory details of our efforts to dislodge the elusive clog; suffice to say it was nasty. That wasn’t the only trouble in Paradise, however. At Paul’s suggestion Jim removed the exhaust mixing elbow to inspect and clean/replace it. We had been getting some black exhaust and slight overheating, and we thought the mixing elbow could be the culprit. Without the engine functional our engine-drive refrigeration is also non-functional. In the process of dismantling the mixing elbow, Jim discovered a broken ground strap attached to the zinc in the refrigeration condenser. So that became one more project. Also, the watermaker was leaking again.

As the projects piled up—each one requiring immediate attention—we began some serious questioning about the sanity of continuing this life style. As Paul puts it, we were beginning to write the ad to sell the boat. Actually, the only thing that kept me from taking that step was that I couldn’t think of anything good to say about it! But today is another day. Yesterday the holding tank got pumped out, and the watermaker has stopped leaking; it seems to be running okay for the moment, at least. The mechanic at Marathon Boat Yard inspected the mixing elbow, and, yes, we need a new one, and, no, it’s not a stock item, so, yes, it needs to be fabricated. The good news about that is that the fabrication will be done this afternoon by Keys Welding. It will still need to go back to Marathon Boat Yard for insulation wrapping before Jim can re-install it, so that probably won’t happen until early next week.

Marathon is a far better place to sit for repairs than Lake Worth, and having good friends to help lift our spirits makes a world of difference. So we’re not writing the ad just yet, although our sanity may still be in question. The refrigeration condenser? That project has yet to be tackled.

Happy 94th, Mom!

With some consultation from the refrigeration manufacturer Jim was able to get the condenser once more functional, although we can’t test it until the engine is up and running. And, true to their word, the mixing elbow did get fabricated by the end of the day last Friday. However, the required fiberglass overwrap had to wait until this week. We’ve had some delightful dinners and happy hours with Gail and Paul of Puffin and Nancy and Jay of Serendipity. Laughter flows easily among us. So why are we depressed again? Well, we didn’t know until today that the mixing elbow wouldn’t be ready until Friday at the earliest, and quite possibly it will be next Monday before we get it back. In the meantime, we’re hauling ice and dry ice to keep our refrigerator and freezer going, and we’re taking cold showers. At least the temperatures are in the 80s. Gail and Paul are running out of cruising time so they left this morning, and we miss them already. We think we’ll head north as soon as we can, too, rather than try to get to Key West or the Dry Tortugas with the winds dying off. It feels as if we really haven’t gone anywhere this cruising season, but we’re ready to head back to the familiar waters of Southwest Florida even so.

Pigeon Key was once a headquarters for the construction workers who were building Henry Flagler’s Overseas Railroad in the early 20th century. Today it is a historic site open for public viewing. The only hitch is getting there. Pigeon Key sits about two miles west of Marathon on the Seven Mile Bridge—on the old bridge, that is. Usually there is a tram with guided tours costing $8.50 per person, but today the tram was out of service, so no guided tours were offered. Have I mentioned recently how great it is to have bikes on board? Nancy and Jay on Serendipity also have bikes, so we all rode the pleasant two miles on the original bridge, and we toured the grounds all on our own. We even got to go through a number of the buildings and amble through the museum displays of Pigeon Key’s history. As charming as the off-the-beaten-path site appears today—there’s even a guest house for rent on the grounds—it’s hard to imagine the hardships of living there a hundred years ago.

Pigeon Key
Pigeon Key

Riding back on the old bridge Jim and I reflected on the fact that we must have driven across that very pavement on our first car trip to Key West in 1971. As young and invulnerable as we were then we didn’t seem to notice how narrow the bridge was. (The Overseas Highway was built on much of the original railroad bed.) Today’s more modern Seven Mile Bridge—the one with the high rise that we can sail under—provides a more comfortable journey south to Key West.

Seven Mile Bridge
Seven Mile Bridge(s)

No, the mixing elbow wasn’t finished today. Maybe it will be done on Monday, but we’ll believe it when we see it. I was told when I first took it in for the fiberglass wrap that it would only take about an hour to do the job. Unfortunately, they neglected to mention that that one available hour would be over a week away. Boat yards, blechhh!! We’re sick of cold showers and hauling expensive dry ice. We finally realized that we were spending more on dry ice than the value of the frozen food, so we’re just going to eat what we can and throw the rest away after it all thaws. Nancy and Jay came over tonight to help us eat our defrosted chicken.

We thought we might have a calm, relaxing day after yesterday’s whirlwind bus excursion to Key West (more about that in the next log), but we had to spend a couple of hours this afternoon untangling anchor chains and setting an additional anchor. We realized last night that the current 20+ -knot east-northeasterlies had dislodged one of our anchors, and we didn’t sleep much last night wondering what else was happening to our ground tackle in the briny deep…well, 12-ft. deep, anyway. We now seem to be holding in one place, so maybe we’ll sleep better tonight. It’s always something. But the weather has been mostly glorious, and, compared to reports of weather back home, the Florida Keys looks like Paradise—even without the engine running.

Fair winds and a faithful wake until next time,
Alice & Jim Rutherford
s/v Caloosa Spirit

Posted Sunday April 30, 2006

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