Plan ZZ…

 

March 24

How a week changed our charted course—and that of the whole country’s! Sadly, Steve and I did not return to Red Pearl after our two weeks away. A day before our flight back to Florida, we decided that COVID-19 poses a threat which simply precludes any right to reason through a way in which we can “safely” proceed to do what we want to do. While we might be even better able to keep “social distance” on the boat, there still was no truly isolated way to get down there. And as we watched spring break beach partiers, I was less inclined to want to be in Florida, anyway.  Further, as the disease spreads and businesses shutter, it simply is an insecure time to be away from home. So, once again, here we sit in our condo in Goshen, Indiana, the small space which we purchased simply to store our stuff and from which to launch as we travel and visit our aging parents. We have spent way too much time here. How ironic.

As of today, Red Pearl has been tucked in at Legacy Marina in Fort Myers, FL. Captain Pat Davis and a friend of his drove to Key West the last day that services were open. At this time, most marinas are closed, allowing visiting yachts to stay only long enough to purchase fuel. At the marina office, Pat picked up the key and a few Amazon packages awaiting us, returned the laundry card-with- a-chip, and then enjoyed a delightful overnight cruise under a moonless, brilliantly-star-studded sky. At Fort Myers, he cleaned out the fridge (!) and left Red Pearl clean and looking loved. Hopefully the generator will be repaired during this interim, but even if not, dockage fees are 1/3 those in Key West. 

Our dream of cruising the Chesapeake now having been foiled a third summer, perhaps there will be a window in which we can safely return and enjoy some Florida Gulf coastal cruising this summer. 

What an amazing sociological experiment we all are a part of! Do be well, friends. 

Final Week in Paradise

March 3, 2020

Our final days in Key West were marked by looking forward and making preparations for leaving Key West. Here are highlights:

The laundry

As Mike and Brenda cleaned and moved off their boat, evening bid euchre and Pinochle, Key Lime Pie, and little beers, for the most part, continued. We celebrated one evening with happy hour at Santiago’s Bodega and then watched the sun set over Mallory Square amidst a throng of tourists. Not particularly charmed by having to stand on tiptoe to watch the sun drop below the horizon, we did find the street performers on the square to be in top form. This guy’s gutsy art was enhanced by his awesome sense of humor.

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After their closing on Thursday good-byes were bittersweet. We celebrate how perfect  timing has been for their adventure and for the sale of their boat, and we anticipate keeping up with these lovely folk. We took photos for them the next morning of that pretty blue boat zooming off for Miami to facilitate a party lifestyle for her single owner.

Our rhythm, though not really changed, felt different with Velsignet gone. Steve and I hopped on our bikes and made an exciting day of errands—Verizon store, Auto Zone, Home Depot, UPS. Each led us further toward town until we were hungry and decided to have happy hour at one of our favorite spots, Off the Hook. And then we were SO close to downtown, where a favorite dress shop was calling…. 

We played single-deck euchre and shared Key Lime Pie with our dock mates and Gold Loopers Rick and Monica on Best Mate. Lovely folks.

We celebrated Sunday with a bike ride to brunch at Louie’s Backyard, an iconic restaurant on the most beautiful beach in Key West. A hoity toity spot where the folks from the Astoria dine in their swimsuits, we found white table cloths and bike helmet hair totally congruent. 

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We have been watching the weather for a couple of weeks now. High winds have clocked and are from the north, making a cruise north to Fort Myers imprudent at this time. We have hoped to have our generator repaired and to purchase a new dinghy engine there, but that will have to wait.  We finally decided to rent a car and drive to Fort Myers, leaving Red Pearl in Key West for another two weeks, and are off to meet our grandson Wesley and to give his exhausted parents some respite. I will then venture into New York City for some girls’ time with our daughters. 

 

Week Three in Paradise

Feb. 25, 2020

While weather guessers back home warned of snowy, sleety conditions, temperatures soared into the high 80s in Key West this week. These were some highlights: 

Our flybridge grill is repaired and functional and, thanks to a fine fiberglass craftsman, it is now “better-than-old.” The last bit is to find replacement grates for an out-of-production unit at a less-than-extortionist cost.

Our week was shaped by Bev and Joel Eikenberry’s arrival on Friday. While it’s always a challenge to clear space for overnight guests aboard Red Pearl, it was delightful to spend mornings with friends from home on the flybridge over coffee during animated discussions covering many topics.

Having seen the highlights already, Steve and I visited second-tier tourist attractions in Old Town while Bev and Joel visited our favorites. We viewed the entire island from atop the lighthouse which functioned from 1848 until its decommissioning in 1969. We were amazed by the stunningly beautiful Fresnel glass lenses, designed for superb light refraction; but we puzzled as to how these massive glass and brass cylinders rotated before the advent of electric power, in order to create the flashing signals which differentiated them from other, steady light sources. *

The view from the lighthouse included the Hemingway house and, of course, the ocean.

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Gorgeous Fresnel lenses, 5th and 1st order.

The four of us shared afternoon drinks at Moon Dog Cafe and delicious tapas for dinner at Santiago’s Bodega.  

We rented a car and drove up to Marathon Key, exploring the Sea Turtle Hospital in which veterinarians and volunteers work to protect and rescue these magnificent creatures and educate the public. After a delightful but windy lunch on the deck at Burdine’s, we ventured on to the Dolphin Research Center, where injured wild dolphins, too, are rehabilitated. These athletic and intelligent guys crave human interaction, and it was fun to see them both cooperate and also exercise their own will with their trainers and to witness their sense of humor. Males and females travel separately in the wild and here, too  are separated here, but there is a corner of the system of pools in which the males hang out, eaves dropping and chatting with the girls in the nearby pool. At sunset, we returned to Key West just in time to watch the sun set over Smathers Beach. 

We introduced Bev and Joel to Hogfish Bar and Grill, which we have frequented during our stay here. They serve the best fish and chips ever. 

* After stumping the young docent with our question, a Google search revealed that clock works rotated the heavy glass Fresnel lenses, creating unique flashing coastal warning signals to seamen.

Week Two in Paradise

February 15

Our second week in paradise was marked with finding an island rhythm. The touristy highlights having been hit, we are beginning to slow down. These were the highlights:

The laundry

Days lost to reading, crosswords, and conversation around the pool.

Boaty punch-list tasks, like polishing isinglass, removing rust, passing our Vessel Safety Inspection, and messing with the outboard motor again to finally determine that we need to buy a new one for the dinghy.  

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A very handy guy, Mike cleaned the carburetor of our outboard and confirmed our previous findings. 👎

A solo escape for a haircut in Old Key West by a Hoosier stylist. We had an in-depth conversation about her girlhood experiences showing livestock at the fair! 

Docktails with our dock neighbors from Evansville on Best Mate. 

Two bike rides to Smathers Beach, one without and one with bike locks 🙄 

Discovery of the nearby Cuban French bakery, which specializes in croissants—and toooo many tempting restaurants! It’s Steve’s and Mike’s mission to rate the Key Lime Pie at every one of them.

 

A Valentine’s Day dinghy flotilla “around the corner” to Hurricane Hole for lunch. After an unusually big lunch, we nixed our dinner reservation and enjoyed eclectic dining on leftovers, steamed mussels, and wild rice and edamame salad on Mike and Brenda’s aft deck. The girls whopped the boys at Bid Euchre AND Pinochle! 

Here are photos of the dinghy flotilla:

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Today we eagerly await news of our grandbaby’s arrival!….

Week One in Paradise

Feb. 9, 2020

No drama = Bliss. It was a boring week of exploring in the sunshine and seamless contentment. 

With delightful cruises oceanside down the chain of keys, we arrived in Key West a day ahead of schedule. Some of our first looping friends, Mike and Brenda Finkenbinder on Velsignet, had arrived the day prior, and it is so much fun to be with them again. Right away they invited us for lunch on their flybridge, and we have been going back and forth all week. Afternoon exploring, early dinners followed by cards are the routine, but not the rule. Here are some of the sights we loved.

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Red Pearl is entering the marina

The Laundry Room

A Super Bowl Party

Emphasis on “Party,” the TV setup and arrangements complements of Mike and Brenda in the marina Captains’ Lounge. Twelve of us gathered, docktails style.

The Hemingway House

Hemingway lived here from 1931-39 and owned it until his death in 1961. The 1851 house sits on a beautifully-landscaped, one-acre property on which 59 cats, all decendents of Hemingways’ 6- and 7-toed cats, still rule. The house is simple but lovely, and features beautiful chandeliers and the first bathroom in Key West with running water. Hemingway’s cozy writing studio here is where he wrote The Green Hills of Africa and To Have or to Have Not. The docents enjoy regaling guests with stories of this renowned, colorful and accident-prone author, who struggled with bi-polar disorder his whole life. They particularly enjoy telling the story of the extravagant $20,000 in-ground pool which his second wife had built during the Great Depression. To make room for it, she tore down Hemingway’s boxing gym. She had always wanted a pool, but through it, she got revenge for his galavanting around Europe with another woman. This story and others are a striking backdrop as one views his hallowed writing studio lofted above the carriage house. Of course, the myriad of cats lend their unique zen. 

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Cats Rule.

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The Butterfly Conservatory

Beautiful and calming. A sacred experience.

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The Truman “Little White House”

Another walk through a snippet of history. The house was built in 1890 as the first officer’s quarters on the submarine base naval station. It was redesigned as a single-family residence in 1911, and Pres. Taft was the first president to visit. Thomas Edison resided here for 6 months during WW I while developing 41 underwater weapons. Truman’s struggle with depression was abated in the warm climate and away from the microscope and hostilities of Washington D.C., and he spent 175 of his presidential days here—more than any other president—as commander in chief of the naval base and in meetings with his cabinet. Continuity of his many accomplishments was prioritized here, but Truman enjoyed plenty of light-hearted camaraderie as well, including evenings around the custom-made poker table. Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Carter also spent working vacations here, while the Clintons retreated here for a weekend following their attendance at the Trumps’ Miami wedding in 2005. 

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Rum, Gin, and Vodka Tasting on Site here at the Perry Hotel

A distillation tour is always an interesting chemistry lesson, but the taste is not one I am work to develop anytime soon. 

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The Mel Fisher Maritime Museum

Full disclosure: Brenda and I shopped while the guys took in the museum. This tells the sensational story of Mel Fisher, who as an Indiana boy was riveted by Stevenson’s Treasure Island. He went to Purdue, came to Key West as a treasure hunter, and subsequently learned of a treasure-filled Spanish ship which wrecked 50 miles off the shore of Key West in 1622. After a 16-year search, and many losses and set-backs, Mel discovered the ship in 1985 with its $500M worth of treasure. The Spanish wanted it back. Florida wanted tax revenue. Others held claim for various and sundry reasons.  But after a 4-year legal battle, the Supreme Court ruled that the treasure go entirely to Mel—and his lawyers! There are still artifacts—mostly silver coins—available for purchase today. Here we are, hearing more stories at a local jeweler which features sale of some of the last of these treasures. 

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Your Boat’s on Fire

Jan. 31

Yes. It was.

We had arrived in Key Largo and had just finished washing the brine from the boat and were beginning to think about an early dinner. The smell of something hot arose, but of course, it wouldn’t be coming from OUR boat…. Then we heard the calls from people eating at the nearby waterside restaurant: “Your boat’s on fire!” From OUR flybridge, smoke was pouring from the electric grill. Steve grabbed the fire extinguisher from the galley, and I flipped off the switch on the main electric panel. Fire leapt up as Steve opened the grill, and it was quenched in a moment. 

The cause?… two people who knew that there was a double switch system and, each, for reasons of their own,  switched one switch, not knowing that the other person had flipped the other. Despite the mess, the inconvenience of yet another repair,  we are counting our blessings. There will be no photos. 🥵

Arrived: Key West.

A World Unto Itself

Jan. 28, 2020

Indiscretion. Zenith. Aphrodite. Lady Sara. Gene’s Machine. Just a few names of the eye-popping mega-yachts which reside in disquieting regularity in front of equally eye-popping mansions. We have been saturated by our glimpse into the opulent wealth of southeastern Florida, beginning with the fascinating Henry Flagler history and continuing by our IntraCoastal Waterway route past a parade of current breath-stopping part-time residences and yachts from Palm Beach to Fort Lauderdale to Boca Raton to Miami. There are not many Loopers here, as Loopers usually opt for lower-key, less extravagant, and more natural experiences. But, Steve and I are looping backwards as we head south—most Loopers approach the Keys from Florida’s west coast. We’ve seen this sort of lifestyle elsewhere, sprinkled around the Caribbean and other coastal areas but never in profuse succession like this. This is a world unto itself.

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Shiney, impeccable mega-yachts all along the ICW of southeastern Florida await a professional captain—perhaps a 3-person crew—and a destination. 

Having been to Palm Beach years ago for a medical meeting, we almost passed on the Flagler Museum, Whitehall.  But we enjoyed revisiting the history, pondering again the business titans of the turn of the 20th century, those robber barons of the Gilded Age. Henry Flagler won his fortune as John D. Rockefeller’s partner at Standard Oil, and was the innovative business mind behind the the centralization of the huge corporation’s holdings, giving birth to the Standard Oil Trust. He retired in his 60s and turned his attention to developing Florida, eventually purchasing over 2,000,000 acres of land and laying over 500 miles of railroad track along Florida’s east coast and, remarkably, all the way to Key West. His vision opened Florida to the rich and famous, with access to his luxury hotels by his railway, and the development of agriculture in service of the lifestyle. The Florida project was a money loser, and he joked that he would have been a wealthy man were it not for Florida, his assets having dipped to $150,000,000 at his death in 1913. Whitehall was a wedding gift to Henry Flagler’s third wife, Mary Lily Kenan; he was 71 and she, an accomplished young woman of high society at 34 years. The more-than-100,000-square-foot extravagant mansion in warm Beaux Arts architecture was created with attention to every aspect of design and living, from quiet spaces where deals were made, to the music room with a 1249-pipe Odell organ (calling for a resident organist) and Steinway upright grand ornamented with hand painted scenes, where Mary Lily hosted her literary friends, to the lavish grand hall and ball rooms. The Flaglers resided here only during “the season,” 6 weeks from early January through Washington’s birthday. It is easy to let one’s imagination play with images of their lavish life, but I also caught suggestions of a darker side to the history, which set me to googling over the course of the next days. I discovered that the Flagler story also includes a “love child” prior to their marriage who was raised by Mary Lily’s sister as her own; a Florida law which was instituted to make divorce for reasons of insanity legal was utilized only by Henry Flagler in order to divorce his second wife, and then was rescinded a short time later; and the tragedies of syphilis contracted by an early beau, nefarious lethal morphine overdosing, Mary Lily’s  unscrupulous, fortune-hunting 2nd husband (and said “early beau”), and a nighttime exhumation and gruesome graveside autopsy of Mary Lily two months after her burial. The plot would make for scoffable drama, were it not true. Finally in 1959 Whitehall was rescued from the indignity of  punishing use as a hotel and near razing, by Henry’s grand daughter; she created the foundation which secures it as a national landmark today. Flagler’s story is a stunning story of vision, an arrogant viewpoint regarding the masses, and a stomach for ruthless acquisition and power. 

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Top to bottom: Steve in front of the Flagler Whitehall home; the Grand Hall with its perfect balance of mythology and classic architecture; the music room where the resident organist performed for the Flaglers daily and Mary Lily entertained her literary friends (note the Baccarat crystal chandeliers); the dining room, which seated only 24–overflow would have to take their meals at their nearby Royal Poinciana Hotel; Mrs. Flagler’s parlor, where the identity disclosed on caller’s card determined whether she was home or not. While much of the ornamentation in the mansion is painted in gold leaf, this room’s plaster work is plated with aluminum, a treatment many times more expensive than gold leaf at the time.  

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Flagler’s personal railroad car was luxuriously appointed and simply bore the number “91.”

I will simply mention that we left Fort Pierce without a working generator. We had hoped to enjoy anchoring out on this next quiet leg of our journey—and we may once—but that means no AC electricity and a cold dinner and no morning coffee. Tonight we sit contentedly on our little boat in a marina full of newer and bigger boats in Coconut Grove, a western suburb of Miami. We were told by our sweet Costa Rican medical student/driver/tour guide that here in Coconut Grove one can live in a house, if prefer to the high-rise culture of the city. Here one can purchase a starter home for about $900,000. We look forward to a laid-back experience in the Keys after feeling wound a little tight this week. We’ll be leaving the ICW, which is known to be shallow down the chain, and cruising “outside.” “Outside” is the ocean, Hawks Channel to be exact, and we have an eagle-eye on wind, direction and speed. 

 

Southern Progress

Jan. 22, 2020

Everywhere in the U.S. seems to be experiencing notable weather these days. It is somewhat to be expected, it being January. Red Pearl and her crew are hunkered down in Fort Pierce, FL due to the rip tide, gale warning, and wind, high surf, and small craft advisories. 

We are contentedly waiting out the wind, but also chaffing as we wait for a fourth generator repairman—at a third port—because our generator still does not work. Having already shelled out an extorted “boat unit,” we hope this guy is in fact as punctilious and tenacious as the reputation which precedes him. We commented this morning how wonderfully cozy we are with the wind howling around us, our furnace cranking out the heat; and then we stopped and looked at each other, having learned the painful lesson to not take for granted that ANY system will work on a boat. 

As we cruise coastline that we previously explored in the spring, coastline that we anticipate cruising again on our journey north next spring, we are spending long days on the water in order to meet and maximize our reservation in Key West for the month of February. We enjoyed a long-overdue connection in Melbourne with Steve’s cousin, Song Koh and his wife Judy and their daughter Michaela. We enjoyed seeing where Song works, creating the meticulous calculations for the fabrication of gorgeous and iconic bridges; and our time over dinner at Meg O’Malley’s Pub flew by as we caught up on one another’s families and easily discussed a broad array of topics.

Here are a few random experiences of the last week: 

A couple of nights in St. Augustine were relaxed, having done the touristy stuff last spring.

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Our neighbors in the beautiful and tiny anchorage, Rockhouse, were Swedish. We departed the following morning before the fog entirely dissipated, relying on our radar for details further than .25 mile. The fog quickly burned off. 

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Above, this shows a picture of our chart plotter with radar. The icon of our boat is at center, with our track, as we are exiting our anchorage. In this case, we are keeping the green markers to starboard and the red markers to port. The rust color represents things to avoid hitting. In this case, it was scrubby stuff along the side, but anything that blocks the satellite will show up rust, such as a power line suspended above, and, of course, another vessel. It takes time and experience to learn to read radar, and we are still just babes at it.

The Jan. 19 SpaceX launch. 

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Derelict boats are a pervasive and intriguing problem, with Florida being one of the boating capitals of the world. At least every few miles, one sees these sorry sacks, sometimes washed up on shore, but often at anchor and deliberately left to degrade. The legal rights and responsibilities of the owner are theoretically sound, but the reality of the situation is confounding. Imagine owning and living on beautiful waterfront property, and a small unloved vessel suddenly appearing central to your view. A landowner has no legal claim to his view, the waterway being public property, and yet, that is precisely why he bought that parcel! The one who deserted the boat is in violation, but just TRY to find him! The landowner has no right to touch a vessel which is not his, and to jump through the proper legal hoops to do so takes copious amounts of time and resources. It’s a huge problem. I keep thinking that there are jobs here, and Steve keeps reminding me that it all takes money—and good legislation.  Here are a few pics of derelicts that we passed. 

As I finish this post, the unwelcome mention of a new generator has just been floated through the capable woman in the office. Evidently, there will be a meeting of the minds in the morning. Stay tuned.

Finding Our Sea Legs Again

Dare we try this again? Dare we seek joy in the freedom of wide open horizons, the challenges of the cruising life, the banter at docktails? It’s been quite a journey in Indiana, seeing my lovely Dad through his final weeks, celebrating his life, saying goodbye to those dear old friends who accompanied us. As we closed up the condo for what seemed like the “dozenth” time, I felt a tug at my heart, sort of a feeling that I was leaving sacred ground. Perhaps that’s what “home” is— the place where one processes the sacred stuff that one encounters, often, elsewhere. We’ll see new coastline, make new friends, and we’ll celebrate life, OUR life, Steve’s and mine together. Dad carried a big photo—2 rumpled papers taped together—of Red Pearl in the seat of his rollater, which he would whip out whenever his friends asked where his roving daughter and son-in-law were. He was, if not proud of, at least amused by, our journey; and he encouraged our adventure. So. Here we go, finding our sea legs again, and open to an epiphany. 

We usually rent a car one-way and drive to the boat, because we often have too much kitch to take on a plane. Our aim to tail the storms as they blew through the south was almost successful; as we walked into Unclaimed Baggage in Scotsboro, AL, once again seeking treasure too good to pass up, we were immediately ushered into their basement employee break room, as a tornado had been sited. A short time later we were released, and 2 hours later, we did, in fact, tail those storms. 

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Red Pearl is now in Brunswick, GA. She didn’t magically fly there from Murrell’s Inlet; we sneaked in a quick and hard week of cruising in December to get her to a destination that would definitely NOT be icy in January. The 300-mile cruise reminded us of all the things we love about the journey: elegant dolphins, nosey pelicans, gorgeous sunsets—and sunrises by any description, which we do not see at home. We anchored at night, opting for pristine and solitary scenery and quicker morning starts.

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So. Here we sit awaiting departure. It feels WAY too familiar. We’ve discovered that when you say to a boat yard manager, “Here are the things that we need done on our boat. We’ll be back in a month,” he looks at your list in about 27 days. He does not call with questions about specs or history, or even in time to let you decide whether you want to pay the extra $60 to overnight a part. Everything around the water is just slow. That said, one could be in a worse place—and we have been! Marina-wide docktails at which beer and and wine are provided are every MWF. Last evening we enjoyed a lovely time with friends who we met at Ft. Pierce, Cal and Cheryl Freeburg on No Snow, and friends who we met in Savannah, Sue and Bud Hansen on Odyssey.

We are loaded with fleece, down, and wool socks. Also, swim suits, sandals, and a big bag of limes. Destination: (fingers crossed) Key West.