Friday, March 22, 2019

Time Flies

March 22, 2019

Jim and I both enjoy the "Doc Ford" series of books written by Randy Wayne White.  Probably the main reason is that they all take place in the area that we are beginning to become familiar with:  The Everglades, Marco Island, Ft. Myers Beach, Sanibel, Captiva, and Cabbage Key.  We have mental images of most of the places he describes.  In honor of that we decided to walk to Doc Ford's Bar and Grill for lunch.  It is about a mile over the famous blue bridge to Ft Myers.  En route we had a great view of the Mooring Field and if you zoom in far enough you can see our boat - the farthest one out and just behind a sailboat with a black hull.  (Don't bother, I can't see it either!)

Mooring field as seen from the Ft. Myers Bridge
Ft. Myers bridge as seen from our boat

Feeling a need to explore a little, we headed south on the trolley to Lovers Key yesterday.  It is a 1,616 acre State Park south of Ft. Myers Beach.  It is a perfect spot for canoeing, kayaking and hiking.  It is also a great chance to discover just how out of shape we are!  However, we did a little hiking, a lot of watching kayakers, had a picnic lunch and then headed back. 

A word of caution

Typical of the kayaking waterways
One of the most enjoyable spots was a shallow area that was apparently also a favorite of the manatees.  We had a chance to watch a mom and baby as well as two "adolescents" enjoying themselves in the shallows. The mom had a series of white scars on her back from a run in with a propeller.  The manatees are hard to see in the water and altho there are numerous signs for boats to be careful, it is likely that powerboats don't even know that they have gone over one.  Almost all of them have scars of some sort. 

The manatee with mulitple white scars is the mom, baby is right by her

We knew traffic was tough on Estero Blvd (the only thru road in town) but we had no idea that it would take us three hours (instead of one) to get home.  Construction turned much of it into a one lane road.  It was a good spirited group on the trolley (a large number were headed to the main section of Ft. Myers Beach for a Pub Crawl and advertized it with their bright matching chartreuse t-shirts).  No grumbling, but many of us were tempted to get off and walk - it would have been faster, but it was too far for our endurance level.

Arriving back at the dinghy dock, Jim was concerned (and I was terrified).  The wind had picked up to 17 mph plus and the floating docks were bouncing to the point that walking was nearly  impossible.  There were the usual large number of dingys and they, too, were bouncing and looking as if they were trying to fling themselves onto the dock.  The current running through a normally quiet area was powerful and the winds were crazy.  By sitting on the dock we were able to safely scoot into the dinghy and Jim managed to back out without hitting either other dinghys or any of the concrete posts covered in barnacles.  The ride back to the boat involved surfing swells as they rolled in from the Gulf.  They lifted us up and then passed on by.  As we got closer to our boat, at the back of the mooring field, things calmed down - thank goodness for the protection of distance and other boats.

Just in case you may have thought we left Mr. Wiffles behind -  We did not, but we haven't been dragging him around with us.  He has been here before.

Mr. Wiffles taking it easy

Friday, March 8, 2019

The Importance of Being MacGyveresque

March 8, 2019

Anyone who decides to go cruising and is neither mechanically inclined nor a wannabe MacGyver, should make sure they have a nice "cruising kitty". Fortunately for us, Jim is a bit of both because the cruising kitty is problematical.  

Part of our sailing in Charlotte Harbor was fairly rough.  If you have never been aboard a bouncing sailboat, it is hard to imagine the chaos that is created from things that are not tied down.  Think "earthquake".  Jim in an ever resourceful mode designed a system for keeping the cupboard doors shut where he stores spare parts and other supplies.  Somehow he finds picking up large numbers of bolts, nuts and screws less than fun.  (Think closing the barn door after the horse has already taken off)  Most cupboards have hooks where we can attach a single shock cord, but this one doesn't. So this was his temporary solution - at least I think it is temporary. 

A door, a broom, a roll of paper towels and a shockcord!

Heading southward, we anchored for the second time at Cabbage Key.  What a difference a day makes!  No crowds, and a quiet peaceful anchorage. "Entertainment" was provided by a SeaRay power boat which had apparently cut a corner by the channel and had dug himself into the shallows.  TowBoat US spent the whole day putting floats under the boat. (They were walking in ankle deep water!)  At high tide, they were three boats strong, two pulling on the grounded boat and a third who tried to get passing boats to make pretty good wakes to help rock it loose.  After about an hour or two and after high tide they gave up for the day.  We left early the next morning and didn't get to watch the final extraction but passing by a week later the searay was gone!
Three Boat US Tow boats and Sea/Ray
When we arrived at Ft. Myers our plan had been to have our dinghy motor worked on. (this after a complete overhaul at Safe Cove)  It idled way too fast which made docking tricky and putting it into gear very jerky.  No one in Ft. Myers was available to work on it!!  So altho youtube info was not helpful, Jim braved it and after three adjustments we now have a slow idle!  

Our freezer and fridge seem to be inhabited by some inconsistent malevolent creature.  We have two separate Isotherm systems that are proving to be quite the challenge. They cycle intermittently and when one is on, the other won't go on...sometimes.  Temperatures vacilate between below 0 degrees and 38 in the freezer and 8 degrees and 53 in the refrigerator.  We discuss strategies ad nauseum, adjust dials, shift food around and rant and rave with no discernible effect.  This might be one for the cruising kitty.

As much as we have travelled, we are pretty naive about trolleys and trams.  (Ft. Myers has a nice system but on our first try we got on the wrong one and had to start over.)



Yesterday we ventured out and after two trolleys, two buses and two hours we arrived at the Edison Ford Winter Estates and Museum in Fort Myers!  The grounds were a veritable buffet of colorful flowers and shrubs, and contained an incredible variety of trees, many imported from all over the world.  Unfortunately we left the museum until last and although it was the most interesting  (Edison was issued 60 patents in 60 years!) we had to give it short shrift because we were concerned about getting back to our mooring field before dark. 

Jim and Mina Edison
Marg and Thomas Edison

Words of Wisdom:  Keep the electric drill away from the dinghy!!  Jim has been working on replacing one of the steps on our swim ladder.  He was sitting on the dinghy and drilling a hole through the stainless steel rung when the drill slipped off and though it didn't fall, he couldn't prevent it from hitting the inflated tube of the dinghy.  It did not create a perfect quarter inch hole - but it might as well have.   So with slightly elevated blood pressure and heart rates, we dug out our various repair kits and patched the hole.  We still have a slow leak despite several additions to the patch.  We carry both a pump and additional repair materials with us when we go out in it.  It is a bit nervewracking - I mean this is our "car"!


Sunday, February 24, 2019

Hello "Well, Why Not?" We are back again!

24 February, 2019

After one year away from the boat we were pleased to find no mold, no mildew, no cockroaches, a few signs of leaking and no more dust than expected.  The deck was really dirty, but not outrageously so.  And so began our 2019 sailing season.

 Is it our memory?  It seemed like we had to get to know our boat all over again.  Where is ....? was heard hourly. Where does .... go?  likewise.  I had to go through the annual review of AC and DC power sources and rules - where was I when this stuff was taught?? 

We were on the hard for two weeks doing both the routine, (Jim up the mast to exercise the gib furler, washing dock lines, emptying water tanks to refill with fresh water), the unexpected (replacing the "Y" valve in the waste system and repair of the propane system) and a few major repairs (air conditioning, outboard motor, dripless system).  The dodger and biminy were re-installed. This list does not include the non-boat related repairs:  new windshield for our car and a major fix for my computer which was on a slowdown strike of major proportions. 

Well, Why Not? Dockside

The resident alligator, also dockside
The most intriguing repair was to the dinghy.  It has three inflatable tubes - one on each side and one in the forward section.  Two of the three would not hold air.  After finding no obvious leaks, we resorted to what seemed like a very improbable "trick".  We put a sealant into all three tubes and spent the next four hours flipping the dinghy front to back and side to side every 4 hours.  It seemed unlikely to us that every interior surface would be coated and small holes sealed, but we persevered!!  We then added more air and have had no leaking since.  Who would have predicted success!!

Jim, flipping the dinghy
This is the year of the frog on the Well, Why Not? calendar.  We had seen a few on the boat while on land and didn't think much about it.  But one evening when Jim was opening the aft hatch over our bed, a frog fell through!  Rather startling.  The next morning one was on the galley floor.  Three more have arrived on the scene and while we like the idea of their bug eating habits, we are not thrilled to be sharing our home with them.  Couldn't figure out how to make them pets, so overboard they went.

For the first time we had friends join us for a few days on the boat.  Dean and Shelley our neighbors in Chatfield were the brave souls.  

Dean anticipating the lock
With extra help onboard the exit through the lock was almost flawless!!  

Dean swimming after checking the rudder 
We actually enjoyed a sailing day in Charlotte Harbor - a delightful change from constant motoring.  Their last day we ventured to Cabbage Key (one of our favorite anchorages) only to find it like grand central station.  Over an hour wait time for that "Jimmy Buffet cheeeburger in Paradise" and boats of all shapes and 
sizes going up and down the  intracoastal waterway.  

Dean and Shelley at Cabbage Key
We were sad to see them head home, but not at all sad to be avoiding  the unbelievable Minnesota winter weather they are returning to!

Where to now?  Who knows?  Stay tuned.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

The Journey to Panama III - Land Travel

March 23

Arriving into Panama City was an assault on the eyes, ears, and nose!  It is a vibrant, energetic and colorful city - clean, dirty, modern, old, safe and scary.  Thanks to a great tip from a fellow cruiser we stayed at Hotel Casa Miller, run by a crazy Greek (his words which became ours) who had more stories and anecdotes to tell than time allowed.  The hotel was in an older section of town which we totally enjoyed.  We were within walking distance of the famous Fish Market, and Casco Antiguo, an area undergoing significant renovation.

Fish Market
Fish Market

Traffic jam in Casco Antiguo
Jim and I spent one day at the MiraFlores locks watching the boats come through and enjoying the four story museum set up to explain the history of the canal.  We saw a cruise ship, two tankers, and two sets of rafted sailboats come through as well as a Panamax "monster" boat come through the new larger lock.  That made up for the fact that it was not going to work out for us to be line handlers for Seth.
Mira Flores Locks

Rafted sailboats going through the lock

More rafted sailboats going through locks
Again, thanks to a cruiser we got a tip on a tour company that operated trips to the San Blas Islands and Chak and we booked one as soon as possible.  A two hour car ride to the coast (infamous for its pot holes and sharp turns), a 45 minute ride on a small boat and we arrived at Niadub, also known as El Diablo.  
Launch for boats heading out to the San Blas Islands

Canal leading out to the San Blas Islands

I think if you were to conjure up an island paradise, this would have been it.  Clean white sand beaches, thatched roof bamboo cabins, clear blue waters, lovely Guna Yala family to make sure you were comfortable, and two small "stores" where women were hand stitching molas and had a few displayed for sale.  We had nothing but time: to swim, read, relax, and visit with the other visitors who were primarily from France, Germany and Canada.  Jim and I were the only Americans.  
Our hut

The view from the back of the hut
The lounge and dining area

Chak checking out the baby turtle

Rooster mola

Fish mola

Trying a "coco loco" a dreadful combination
of coconut water and rum

It was quite primitive, the bathrooms were in an outdoor building and although they had flush toilets, they only flushed when the large tanks on top of the shower building next door had been filled.  When the tanks ran empty, the toilets didn't flush.  Showers were cold.  

Meals were sufficient and primarily fish and rice with an occasional choice of chicken. We got pretty good at getting the bones out of the fish.

Our typical lunch and dinner
There were daily optional trips away from the island: to the swiming pool which was a shallow area inbetween two islands, an uninhabited island and yet another island with a divable shipwreck at its shores.  

Famlies take turns running Niadub and income is shared among them.  School aged children go away to another island to attend school.  It is where their families live when not dealing with the tourists at Niadub.  Altho I had always known them as the Kuna Indians, their preferred name is Guna Yala.  
You cannot beat the sunsets
 After three nights we headed back to Panama, again to Hotel Casa Miller.  The three of us spent one afternoon shopping and then it was time to head out.  
Farewell pose of the three enthusiastic travelers
Jim and I took a 9 hour bus ride to Boquete in the highlands of Panama.  (Chak hiked in a local wildlife area looking for what he now believes is a "mythical" toucan! )  Boquete was a small mountain town that I had read about years ago and at one point thought it might be a good place to retire to.  (It would be)  
View of Boquete from our balcony

One part of the steep path to town

We were not disappointed.  Our hotel was up in the hills which while beautiful was too far to walk to town (except for a treacherous steep path which we tried once).  

We booked a private coffee plantation tour to La Finca Milagrosa (the Miracle Farm).  It is a small almost organic farm (5 hectares) and has won many awards world wide for its coffee quality. Keep your eyes open for their brand "Cafe Royal".

La Finca Milagrosa sign

A coffee tree with just a few red beans left on it

Beans drying naturally outside, but under cover

Three level of roasts from the homemade roaster

We learned about coffee growing, picking, processing, roasting and ultimately tasting!  And we learned about Geisha coffee, the third most expensive coffee in the world.  Of course we had to buy a pound...and figured that at $25 it was a deal! 

Waiting for the bus office to open in David
From Boquete we took a taxi to David, where we caught the  bus for another 9 hour trip to San Jose, Costa Rica where we caught a flight back to Florida the next morning.

We are now trying to get the boat ready for the summer hiatus and mentally processing all of the varied experiences and adventures we had this winter season!  

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

The Journey to Panama II

March 21

Behind the Shelter Bay Marina was a jungle with some walking paths as well as the remains of Ft. Sherman which had been a major jungle warfare training location for the U.S.Army during the 60's.  I enjoyed several walks through that jungle while the guys worked on the boat.  (My electrical expertise is nil)  I saw monkeys playing and chattering in the trees and a coatimundi which took off across the path when I walked by.  Leaf cutter ants were prolific and from one day to the next their numbers increased dramatically.  Sadly, the sloths avoided me.  

I saw a variety of stairs to nowhere, walls covered over by jungle as well as a number of virtually destroyed buildings all of which I presumed were remnants of  Ft. Sherman.  The local story is that when it  was turned over to Panama in 1999, all of the barracks and army buildings were looted and in many cases destroyed. 

path through the jungle

church being devoured by the jungle growth
Stairs heading nowhere

stone wall, presumably remnants of Ft. Sherman

leaf cutter ants, next day the line was 10 times as wide!
Ft. Sherman buildings behind chainlink fence

there is a monkey - somewhere  - believe it or not

After a week in Panama, Chak, a friend of Seth's arrived.  He is a French Canadian professional photographer and had hoped to photograph his adventures sailing with Seth.  His first order of business, however was to help reposition the water generator. 

Chak and Jim running wires

Chak tested his submarine camera. (I don't think that is what he called it, but in short he and his son had built a waterproof case for a camera, which they could move through the water by controlling three small propellers with a hand held remote control connected to the vehicle by a cable.)  He had  hopes of using it around the reefs.

Chak and his submarine camera

A few electronic demons were still at work with the auto pilot and the charging of the batteries, but both the electrician and Seth were convinced that it would be safe to take off for the San Blas Islands!! We headed out of the marina and immediately hit heavy seas.  This time we were facing pretty much into the wind and had to motor sail.  It was again very rough and uncomfortable.  The bashing of the bow into the water was amazingly violent and the creaking and groaning of the boat was disturbing as I tried to rest down below before my watch. (It required hanging on for dear life trying not to be tossed out of the bunk.)  The smell of the diesel from the engine was making Chak sick and the motion of the boat was making me sick.  After being underway for a number of hours, Seth became concerned about the charging of the batteries so he and Jim worked on the problem for awhile.  They thought they had it fixed but then it resurfaced.  Finally Seth decided we should turn back.  So after 12 plus hours of bouncing, we arrived back at the marina the next morning.  At this point I think all of us were discouraged.  Plans were up in the air and time was moving forward and the canal crossing date was fast approaching.  

After consultation with the electrician, Seth contemplated trying again for San Blas.  However, time was so short that we would have had only two days there at best. Travel time would have been two days there and two days back. At that point, I had to admit that I was unwilling to face another ocean voyage.  Winds were still strong and the chances of them abating significantly were not good.  So at that point Jim and I decided that it was time to start our land based travel.  We would get to San Blas another way and then try to return to be line handlers for the canal transit. 

For a variety of reasons Chak also decided that this was not the adventure that he had hoped for and that he too was going to leave the boat.
packed up and ready for the taxi
The next day the three of us took a taxi to Panama City.  As it turned out, Seth did not go to San Blas, but instead to Porto Bello (about 1/3 of the way to San Blas) and had a lovely time exploring cute restaurants, fortifications and meeting someone who joined him on the boat for a while.

So, bottom line...are we glad we did it?  Absolutely.  We had an "adventure", we learned alot, we took a journey that I don't think we would have tried on our own.  Would we do it again?  I think not.