Swing Set

Dec 30, 201209:10 AM

Swing Set: Cruising Full Time

A Hostile Environment

On Friday morning, we called a taxi and made the trip up the Overseas Highway to the Marathon Veterinary Hospital to see Dr. Molly. She gave Holly the "all clear" on her ear infection. Holly's next vet visit will be for her next rabies shot on March 1st, so whatever we do, we will have that fact governing our travels.

We called the taxi for the trip back and had to wait for about 20 minutes. When the taxi arrived, we jumped in the back and away we went. A $5 taxi ride in the Keys does not always take you directly where you want to go; there may be other stops for other passengers, so we weren't surprised to take a detour to pick up another fare in a neighborhood just off the highway, where a young girl jumped in the front passenger seat. Holly took all of this in stride and didn't make a peep, even when the girl turned around to say hello. But when we turned into the drive to the City Marina, Holly saw someone on a bicycle and let loose with some extreme vocal protest that it nearly caused our aged driver to have a heart attack. I don't think using the term heart attack was too much of an exaggeration, the open pack of Lucky Strikes on his dashboard being a good indication of his current health status. We got out none too soon to suit the driver, luckily without being involved in an accident.

We walked past the marina office and checked out. We told them we wanted to fill up with water on our way out and was told there was a boat blocking the water station, but they were almost finished. I said we would watch for them to leave before we came in. Back at the boat, we hoisted up the dinghy and strapped it down for the ride down the Hawk Channel. I knew it was going to be bumpy, but if we didn't go that morning, we may find ourselves in Marathon for another week. By the time we got mostly untied from the mooring ball, I still could see the boat blocking the water station, so I called the marina on the radio. I was told we would be contacted as soon as the boat was out of the way, as they were "taking on water." I took that to mean "filling up with water" and not sinking. Fifteen minutes later, we cast off anyway. I called the Marathon Marina (not to be confused with the City Marina where we were) and told them we were coming in to get fuel and fill up with water. I then called the City Marina and let them know not to contact us, we were going to get our water when we got fuel. Adios, City Marina.

We pulled up to the fuel dock at Marathon Marina, where diesel was going for $3.99 per gallon, not too bad until you consider tax is not included. But you get free ice with a 15-gallon fill up. What a deal. I pumped about 121 gallons of fuel into our tanks and filled up. I then reminded the nice woman attending us that I needed water, too. No problem, she unrolled the hose and we started filling up the 120-gallon water tank. While Rosie was watching the water, I went into the hut to pay. The woman there asked if I knew the water wasn't free, but was 15 cents per gallon. This is after I pumped over $525 dollars worth of liquid gold into Swing Set's tanks. I remarked as to how I didn't know the water wasn't free, which was why I had called about getting fuel and mentioned the water when I did. Well, she let me have the water this time, but would charge us next time. At this point, I asked if the free water was going to take place of the free ice. She looked at me and said, "I like you!" I always said, you never get anything unless you ask for it. We pulled out having a good laugh, and she wished us well on our travels.

Once we got out into the Hawk Channel, the smallish waves were on our port beam were making our ride just a little unpleasant, but the 21 miles to our intended destination at Newfound Harbor was made in no time, partly due to the fact that I put Swing Set on plane for a while to "blow out the dust." After that, I settled back into our normal 8 to 9 miles per hour cruising speed, when Rosie remarked that a "big boat was coming up on our port stern." An 80-footer or so, hard to say, was clipping along at over 25 miles per hour, towing a center console fishing boat that was longer than our boat. I know a Marlow when I see one, and it was a beauty. We had been dodging crab pot markers the whole way, which in part was a reason for a slow speed, but this guy was just blasting them out of the way, making at least a 6-foot wave. When he went past, not too far away, I had just enough time to quickly turn to port and take the huge wake on the bow, nearly stuffing it as I did. I've said before that I don't get humble when I view the large homes of others, but seeing this fabulous boat running at speed made me feel just a little inadequate. Just a little.

Picnic Island is in Newfound Harbor, and a few boats were gathered around it in the shallows. We stayed off in deeper water and took in some of the sun. I was thinking about how fun this little island might be on a weekend and wished we would stay until Monday, but like I said, a cold front was moving in from the north and conditions were going to deteriorate by Saturday night.

 

This is our official first sunset on the hook since we got to the Keys. While sunsets in Boot Key Harbor were pretty, with all the sailboats and all, this one was the first with a view of the open water before us. Had I known just how much things were going to deteriorate by the next night, we would have stayed put for a few days at least.

Here, we are rounding the western edge of Key West. Tank Island had no homes on it when we had our boat down here last, about 25 years ago, but it's chock full of them now. Wisteria Island is still uninhabited, but hundreds of boats are anchored all around it, and on the west side of adjacent Fleming Key, much more than we remembered.

We pulled into Key West Bight, just to get the lay of the land, so to speak. The already small harbor was much more crowded than it was years ago, but that is to be expected. The rent in this harbor is beyond comprehension for us, anywhere between $3.50 and $4.50 per foot, per day. Rosie made a few calls and found out that, for the lightening low price of $160 per night, which "included everything," we too could get a slip and enjoy the New Year festivities without the worry of having the boat, and Holly, out on a ball or on the hook while we were on land bringing in the New Year. "Does that price include tax?" Rosie dutifully asked.

"Oh, no. That doesn't include tax, and there is a five-day minimum."

My gut feeling about finding an affordable place to keep our boat was coming to fruition, my gut feeling not being a good one. We motored up through the Key West Harbor, where all the boats are at anchor, some on homemade moorings, most likely cement blocks, engine blocks or some other cheap, heavy material...no telling about the condition of them.

I didn't want to be in the midst of such questionable surroundings, not only from the anchoring standpoint, but also from the shifty appearances of the clientele that seem to inhabit such places. We headed up Fleming Key and rounded the northern tip to inspect the Garrison Bight mooring field, where we had intended on renting a mooring ball for a week or so. We didn't like at all what we saw. The views were dismal, and as advertised by others, there was no protection from the forecasted northerly winds that were coming in with the cold front.

We decided to give the anchorage on the west side of Fleming Key another look. Just around the tip, on the west side, was a small cut, just big enough for a handful of boats. I judged there was room for us in a place that would protect us from waves coming in from the north, and a little wind protection from the spit of land that would lay just on our bow when the wind shifted.

We had talked to the folks that manage the dinghy dock and pump-out station for this area and asked about protocol. I had reservations about slipping in on someone else's "territory," knowing how people are, and we were told that there were "no rules, just don't tie up to someones 'mooring ball,'" even though it wasn't a mooring field.

As I was dropping anchor in front of a smaller sailboat, but giving them plenty of room, I noticed the two inhabitants of said sailboat peering through their windshield, with their heads poking up just far enough to be noticed as little as possible, like a couple of prairie dogs. I mentioned them to Rosie, and she kept an eye on them, but they just hunkered down and watched. But when I left the bridge, the female of the pair had stepped out from behind their dodger, so I gave a friendly wave. She ducked back behind the dodger, and I noticed that she had been taking a photo of our boat. I realize now that her intentions weren't from any type of admiration of our vessel, but she was just gathering evidence for the calamity that she was sure would take place due to our intrusion upon "their space."

While I was trying to decide whether or not to deploy another anchor, a dinghy with a man and small boy came by, and I waved. He waved back and came over. I think he meant well, but he warned me to not be surprised if anyone came by and gave us the "stink eye" because we were on anchor with questionable holding, and that everyone in there was on a mooring. I mentioned it was my understanding that there were no moorings here, just boats at anchor, and he answered that they were "homemade moorings," whatever that means. I asked him about how were we supposed to know what the rules were, and he said that there were no rules. I said, "Exactly," and made up my mind to do what we wanted.

I did decide to put out another anchor, plus dive down on both anchors to confirm a good hold. I felt good about having deployed two good anchors, one to the east, and one to the west, figuring to have a good hold no matter which way the wind decided to come from.

 

Now, a story: Many years ago at my job at the beer factory, there was a short, squat German fella by the name of Norm Noctwein. His nickname was "the Knocker." He was caustic, sarcastic and hated everyone, or so he wanted everyone to think he did. I liked him.

The Knocker told me a story about the time he bought his first house. He went over to one of his neighbors for the first time and told him he was going to paint his house, and what color would his neighbor want him to paint it? The neighbor laughed and told Norm that he could paint it any color he wanted, "just don't paint it purple," he said. The Knocker went out and bought the paint and carefully painted his house the loudest shade of purple that he could find at the paint store. His neighbor never talked to him again.

I don't know how this relates to our situation here, but I've always wanted to tell that story, so I did.

Not too long before this sunset picture was taken, another neighbor pulled up to the folks behind us in the sailboat. He did give a reluctant wave as he motored past. He and the male prairie dog had a long conversation, all the while staring at us, but never saying a word to us. The recent arrival had a boat on our port side and was tethered to a mooring ball with a line over 50 feet long. He wound up tying his runabout to another 25-foot line behind his 50-foot sailboat, and yet another 15-foot line behind that holding his dinghy, insuring for himself quite a lot of buffer around his small flotilla as the wind blew it in circles. Meanwhile, another small cruiser came in, and the couple waved as they came past. I was starting to feel better about the situation, there being some other folks in our vicinity that were at least congenial.

While we were enjoying our second, or third, Busch Light, (on sale, don't knock it) a larger "cruiser" (for lack of a better word) came barreling in right up to us. The captain started admonishing us for "anchoring in a mooring field" and continued to lambaste us until he started in on the couple who had anchored behind us in the small cruiser. The couple in the cruiser pulled up anchor and motored away to avoid a confrontation, and that set me off.

The fella doing the complaining was still muttering half to himself, and still obviously in our direction, when I asked him what prompted him to come over and complain to us. He said he didn't need any reason, that he lived there and could do what he wanted. Well, the way I see it, we now lived here too, and I wasn't about take any crap from him and I let him know in very certain terms what I thought about him and the unlikely prospect of us running into his sorry excuse for a motor vessel.

I was seething as the sun vanished from our view and Rosie started dinner. We had a delicious sirloin steak smothered in onions and brown gravy. We had gnocchi for the first time, having found them on sale at Publix in Marathon. We rounded out the meal with a small salad. The whole time, Rosie tried to put her best face forward in light of our situation, which was that we were surrounded by other boaters that considered us to be "in their territory." We didn't feel safe anymore about leaving the boat alone for a second, and had the prospect in front of us of being at anchor, with just a slice of a dive knife on one of our anchor lines away from peril. Nearby slips at the marinas were not only full for the most part, but we weren't going to pay the outrageous rates others were willing to pay just to stay on our own boat.

As I was checking weather one last time for the night and Rosie was doing dishes, she began to cry. Rosie is not a "crier." I'm a crier, but not her. When I asked her what was the matter, she said, "This has been our dream for almost three years, and these people who don't even know us have ruined it."

We put on a movie, and before it was over, the wind had kicked up and blew in from the north as predicted. We had a fitful sleep in the salon, keeping watch as much as possible, with some help from an anchor watch app on the iPhone. Neither one of us slept very well, with the wind howling as bad as we've ever had at night, and all things being on our minds as to what we were to do if we got through the night.

At daybreak, the moon was still showing full to the west as I got up to get this off my chest. We had breakfast and are now going to formulate a plan. There are whitecaps in this harbor, and pulling up our auxiliary anchor may prove to be too difficult to achieve this morning. Plus, we still don't know where we'll go if we can get out of here. There isn't much point in staying if we can't feel safe about leaving the boat to go ashore. The shine on our dream has been dulled somewhat so far, but we will press on.

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