Tuesday, May 26, 2009

If You Make Lemonade When Life Gives You Lemons, What Do You Do When It Rains?

You collect water!

We’re lucky in that Mr Mac hold 300 gallons of fresh water. Living ashore, you can go through that amount pretty quickly. But living aboard, you learn that the better you conserve water, the less often you have to fill the tanks. We filled our tanks on May 7th, the day we left the dock, and as of May 26th, we’ve used just over half of our supply. (Don’t worry, Mom, we bathe every day.) We were anchored in Newfound Harbor in the Florida Keys when one of the daily thunderstorms passed over us, providing us with plenty of free water. We had intended to set up a system to collect water, but hadn’t yet, so Chris tried the old poke-the-bimini-up-and-collect-the-water-that-flows-off trick. It didn’t work great, but we did get about 2.5 gallons of water, which was enough to fill the kettle and the sun shower!

Meeting Up With Friends

On our last full day in Key West, our friends from the St. Pete Municipal Marina pulled into town. Steve and Lynn, on their sailboat Celebration, had made an overnight passage from Fort Myers Beach. They started their cruising careers a scant four days after we did, so we’re all learning, and it was great to get together with them and compare notes. They came over to Mr Mac for dinner, and we broke out (but didn’t break!) the crystal glasses so we could toast to our new lives in style. Dinner was chickpea stew with tomatoes, cumin and lemon on couscous; olives; and a wickedly delicious caramel/chocolate chip dessert that Lynn brought while it was still warm. We started and ended the evening out with some wine and rum. Food, drink, and great company-you can’t ask for more!

Key West, Florida

After nearly a week in the Dry Tortugas, we made a day run to Key West. We intended to overnight at the Marquesas, but the wind and large swells were from the north, and it would have been an uncomfortable night. Instead, we sailed on and dropped the hook northwest of Wisteria Island, outside Key West. Unfortunately, the anchorage is open to the weather on three sides and the holding left something to be desired, and one night after a big blow Mr Mac dragged anchor into some shallows. This always happens in the middle of the night (3:30 AM, to be precise), but the tide was rising and we had no problem getting afloat and back to our spot. Later that day we changed to an anchorage southwest of Fleming Key, which was much more protected. We expect that sometimes we’ll go bump in the night (or the daytime) because Florida waters are so shallow, but we hope that we never get to the stage of the boat in this picture, not far from us at the Wisteria Island anchorage.

Key West was our real first chance to do some of the day-to-day chores that are just a bit more complicated on a boat. We dinghyed into Key West with our computers and laundry one morning, and made our way to the Coffee Plantation, a funky internet cafĂ© on Caroline St. near the docks. The first hour of internet access is free with a purchase, so we munched on yummy pastries while we paid bills online, answered emails, etc. Then we hiked a couple of blocks to the Hilltop Laundromat, a small, open-air place. We did not buy food here because a gallon of milk was more than $7. We’re really not into the Duval St. party scene, but we did do some walking around in Key West, saw Truman’s Little White House, and had a margarita at Bogart’s Irish Pub (I know, a Mexican drink in an Irish pub is unorthodox, but it was cold and tasty, just what we needed after walking!). Nearly everyday there was a cruise ship in port, most of them as large as the one in this picture, towering over the town.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Dry Tortugas, Florida

Our first real stop on our journey was the Dry Tortugas, which we love. The Tortugas are a small group of islands about 50 miles west of Key West. The only way to get there is by boat or seaplane, which makes them splendidly isolated and a great place to kick back and take it easy (see Chris’ blog). This picture of Mr Mac in the nearly deserted anchorage is atypical; the past two times we were here it was much more crowded.

Garden Key, the main island, is the site of Fort Jefferson. The fort was constructed for use in the Civil War, but was never actually active in that capacity, and was used mostly as a prison. Dr. Samuel Mudd, who set the broken leg of Abraham Lincoln’s assassin, John Wilkes Booth, served time here, but was pardoned after he helped combat a yellow fever outbreak. The fort ha

s six sides, is built of brick, and is surrounded by a moat. There are three levels (including the open top tier), all of which were supposed to be lined with cannons and large guns, but were never fully armed. To accommodate the guns, the walls are lined with open arches through which the guns could be fired. The interior of the fort are the parade grounds, and open area with grass and trees, and some remnants of previous structures such as barracks, ammunition magazines, etc.

During the early spring, lots of migrating birds stop on the island, and last April we saw more than a dozen species; this year we must have been too late, because few birds were in residence, and the only ones we recognized were a gray catbird and seve

ral American redstarts. The redstarts are pretty-dark-bodied with orange/red patches on wings and tail-and they have an interesting way of hunting for bugs in the grass; they raise their tail and hop quickly all around, sometimes flying in a circle just above the ground. The real birds to see are on Bush Key (see picture), which is a sanctuary for nesting boobies (the birds-get your mind out of the gutter), terns, and magnificent frigates. Like Egmont Key on steroids, these thousands of birds feed and fly around, squawking day and night, but it’s a nice kind of sound. When we dinghyed around the bay looking for nurse sharks (it’s also a nurse shark mating area, and no, Mom, we didn’t see any this time, and they don’t have teeth anyway), the sooty terns would fly just over your shoulder and turn their heads to look at you. Very cute!

The water here is also clear and warm, and there’s all kinds of critters around. Some of the most interesting are the large ones. There are enormous tarpon swimming around, and also goliath grouper (the fish formerly know as the jewfish). The grouper like to hang out under boats, and you’ll see them swimming across the anchorage, going from boat to boat. Anne has snorkeled under the boat to see them, and let me tell you, looking at something that big close up is rather intimidating, but all they did was come up and look at me, kind of like a big (like, Newfoundland-size), curious dog.

Sailing Offshore

For those of you who haven’t sailed distances in a small boat, I’ll introduce you now to some of the essential (to us) gear. In this picture you see our cockpit, which is where we spend much of our time (When it’s rough, this is where Anne spends all of her waking hours to avoid mal de mer). It’s got a dodger (like a windshield), which keeps us out of the wind and spray, a bimini (overhead) and side sun shades that keeps us in the shade, and our instruments. The instruments are, from left to right, our wind gauge, global positioning system (GPS), and depth sounder. The wind gauge shows the wind speed and direction, helpful for optimizing the sail configuration. The GPS is invaluable – you plug in your waypoint coordinates (latitude and longitude) and hit the Go To button, and it tells you what your bearing (direction to go) should be, your actual course over the ground (which can be influenced by currents that push you sidewards), your speed, and your estimated time of arrival. Of course, the GPS is absolutely literal; your waypoint may be on the other side of an island, and it will direct you right over the land, so you always have to double check your course on your charts. This may seem obvious, but there actually are people who have hit things and run aground because they set their GPS and just followed whatever it said to go. The depth sounder also is invaluable, because in Florida, the water can shoal up pretty quickly and you can run aground. Ours, unfortunately, is not functioning and we’re waiting for a new one to be delivered, so we’re being very careful.

A fun part of being offshore is the wildlife. So far we’ve seen at least four large turtles; lots of schools of smaller fish, and some being fed on by larger fish; birds galore; and everyone’s favorites, dolphins! We’ve seen both bottlenose dolphins and Atlantic spotted dolphins. These spotted dolphins in the picture showed up and played around the boat for 10-15 minutes. Strangely, they didn’t seem to want to play in the bow wake, which is what the dolphins usually do. Instead, they stayed around the stern and the cockpit area, perfect for viewing! They’d roll over and look up at us, dart off and come racing back, criss-cross each other’s paths, and just generally looked like they were having a ball.

When traveling long distances offshore (called a passage), we’ll often be out for several days. Sailing at night can be absolutely beautiful: clear skies with so many stars you can hardly make out the constellations, peace and quiet, perhaps a full moon making a silver path along the sea. Stormy nights are awful, but we won’t discuss that. The beauty of this cruise is that we’re not on a schedule, so we can wait for good weather to make our passages, and avoid bad nights. Yeah!

And….They’re Off! Starting Out at Egmont Key

This posting is nearly two weeks late, but we’ve just gotten internet access. We left the dock on Thursday, May 7th, and had a nice sail to Egmont Key. Dolphin and turtle sightings! Egmont is at the mouth of Tampa Bay, and it’s a great place to spend some time. On a good day it can look just like the Caribbean, as you can see in this picture that we took a few years ago. Access is only by boat; there’s a ferry that will bring you over if you don’t have your own boat. The water was beautifully clear (for Tampa Bay, that is, which is pretty clear, but still lots of stuff floating around) and warm, and we swam each of the three days we were there. Snorkeling is good on the gulf side of the island. Old gun emplacements have been inundated, and they now lie off of the beach. The rubble attracts lots of fish, especially small ones (we saw baby barracudas that were so cute!). Although weekend days it can be crowded with lots of small (and large) powerboats pulled right into the shore, and people wading about in the water, by dusk most of them have gone home, and only a few boats stay for the night. Peaceful! Actually, peaceful is a relative word, because a large portion of the island is a breeding bird sanctuary, and the sound of thousands of birds can get quite raucous. And I tell you, you don’t want to be close to shore when you’re downwind, because the smell is far from pleasant. But we prefer the sound and smell of birds to those of jet skis and diesel fuel, so it was peaceful by our terms. You can see from the pictures that we had a beautiful moonrise one night, and a great sunrise on the day of our departure.

Monday, May 4, 2009


This is a picture of our new emergency bilge pump that Chris wanted me to post. He discussed it's installation on the Seven Seas Cruising Association (SSCA) discussion board, but couldn't post a picture there, so here it is! He designed and had built a bracket that attaches to the engine and holds both the emergency bilge pump and an engine-driven refrigeration compressor. I'm glad to say that all the belts between the equipment and the engine are aligned and running nicely!

The Mess Continues

Entropy: chaos, disorganization, randomness (courtesy of the Merriam-Webster online dictionary).

Yes, entropy has taken over Mr Mac, as you can see from this picture. Of course, Anne had a little to do with it. In an attempt to make often-used items accessible, she's been reorganizing our storage areas, which means emptying them first. This process was simplified by the absence of our salon table. You can see where the table usually sits from the holes in the cabin sole behind and beside Anne. All was topsy-turvy for a while, but things are pretty much organized now. We await the arrival of our newly redesigned table, and we're pretty much set to go. This part must be agonizingly boring to any reader, but we promise that we'll soon have some nice pictures and tales of life beyond a dock.