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03/29/20 – 06/02/20 – When we last talked, we were in Marlin Bay Marina in Marathon with tentative reservations through the end of April, but with plans to head for The Bahamas the beginning of April. Well, April came and went, and our reservation was extended due to the coronavirus to the end of August (the max allowed, just in case). Our quarantine time in Marathon was somewhat of a double-edged sword. While we would have much preferred to have gone to The Bahamas as planned, we felt safe and made the best of it.
We made some good friends (while remaining “socially distant,” of course). We attended the 11th Annual AGLCA Sunset Celebration at Banana Bay Marina where we got to see other looper friends from the past. We made a trip to NC to be with Paula’s mom after her dad died (at 101+ YO). We went to several Bahamas briefings and to a musical at the local playhouse, played pickleball until the county closed the park, took some long dinghy rides (including one with Brian & Dorthy to see the yellow submarine), walked 5+ miles a couple of times a week until it got too hot, exercised our new electric bikes, took a kayak ride through the mangroves, read a lot, and watched many beautiful sunsets accompanied by our boat neighbor, Brian’s, conch blowing to signal the end of another day. Paula swam a mile 3 to 5 times a week in the beautiful Marlin Bay Marina pool and got a great tan. We watched a lot of movies. Oh, yes, and did quite a bit of work on the boat. Paula also did a serious amount of knitting (1.5 shawls, 3.5 pairs of socks). We really enjoyed Wes and Amanda on Honey Queen and Steve and Susie on All Talk. Wes and Tom helped each other with some boat tasks while Paula helped Amanda and Susie with their knitting. We even won the Marlin Bay Scavenger Hunt, a cute game Brian and Dorothy on Seasons conjured up while having to social distance.
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We often saw tarpon in the marina and saw nurse sharks snoozing on the bottom next to the boat. The one to the left is about 6 feet long.
We found a great church in Marathon (First Baptist Church of Marathon) until churches shut down and then enjoyed watching our home church and the great teaching from Compassion Christian Church of Savannah (Wes and Amanda’s home church), our Sunday School pastor’s teaching, as well as numerous other teachings relating to the state of the world’s pandemic.
Friends Perry & Lynn, who we met in Deltaville last year, joined us for a few days before coronavirus. They even bought our old bikes to carry on their sailboat. The best was the Royal Red Shrimp they brought that tasted more like lobster than shrimp!
We caught up on the “To Do” list while in Marlin Bay, which created quite a mess on the flybridge at times.
- Tom and Perry plumbed a saltwater sprayer at the galley sink
- Paula finished replacing the lining on the aft stateroom curtains (started at home) and rehung, made face masks (which were ultimately required to go in any place of business), plus other small sewing projects
- Tom painted LT’s nameplates and other small items
- Tom replaced the alternator on the port engine…again!
- Paula polished all the stainless on the boat (see the difference, right)
- Tom re-bedded the bilge pumps in the engine room
- Paula re-varnished the flybridge steps, aft deck table and for the first time, all the teak on the flybridge (which was a huge task for Tom to prep)
- Tom stripped the side doors in preparation for repainting
- Tom re-caulked our windows
- Tom removed all the old poop hoses no longer needed due to the new composting toilet (a really fun job!)
- We cleaned and sprayed the Bimini cover with Wet & Forget to remove mold spots
- Paula converted the sloppy-looking cushion ties on the aft deck chairs to Velcro (48 ends in all!)
- We sewed several patches on the dinghy cover
By this time, the marina was pretty empty!
One of the biggest adventures was the Great Lobster Dinner Quest with John on Rumbo. Here it is in Tom’s words.
With just 3 days left in lobster season, we each bought a 3-day license, got our gear, and headed out in our dinghy. We snorkeled around some of the small islands, saw lots of lobster, but could not catch them. As we were snorkeling along, I heard someone yelling at me. I popped my head up to find a Florida Wildlife Agent in a boat just 20 feet from me. The agent, I’ll call him the “Old Cop,” (old, as in been-on-the-job-too-long, grumpy cop) asked what we were doing, and I told him “Looking for lobsters.” He asked where our net and measuring device was. Well, we didn’t have a net and my measuring device dropped off my wrist about 10 yards back. (I later retrieved it, but the Old Cop would not allow me to even look for it.) He then saw the short gaff I was using as a “tickle stick.” (A tickle stick is something you use to coax lobsters out of rocks.) Well, it turns out you cannot have a hook on the end of your tickle stick, so he very emphatically accused us of poaching…I mean as in “You’re going to jail!” Turns out real poachers gaff any lobster regardless the size, then break off the tail and put it in their pockets. The practice of poaching can result in a $500 per tail fine, plus time in jail. About this time another boat shows up with “Young Cop.” Old Cop had us empty our pockets – nothing. Then he got on shore to see if he could see any tails I may have dropped when he first showed up – nothing. Then Young Cop had us get back in our dinghy and tie his boat to us while Old Cop looked for more evidence – still nothing. All this time, the weight of the second boat caused us to drag our anchor across the bottom.
So, with the poaching arrest off the table, Old Cop went to “Let’s see your fishing licenses, boat documents, ID’s, and safety equipment.” Well, I did have my ID and John gave him his dive certification card from something like 1967. Young cop, who was of the mind at this point to just give us a warning, radioed in and the dispatcher was able to verify my ID. But the dispatcher also figured out the registration for the dinghy was expired. Old Cop asked to see our flares. We did not have any flares on board (which is not a Coast Guard requirement but is required by the state of Florida). Fortunately, the 20-year veteran Old Cop could not figure out how to fill out the ticket, and by the time Young Cop (likely a 3-year veteran based on his age) helped Old Cop figure it out, he forgot about the flare issue.
While Old Cop started to write us up, Young Cop was still pushing for a warning. But since Old Cop had already started the ticket, he was committed to fine us for something. We (I) ended up with a $75 ticket for an expired registration, and much to Old Cop’s chagrin – no jail time. I’ll admit, to Old Cop we did look like the bad guys at first. He just didn’t need to be such a jerk about it.
Now this little episode didn’t deter us from our Great Lobster Dinner Quest. So, we did some research on lobster hunting in Florida. (Okay, maybe we should have done this first!) We found out the “norm” for lobster hunting is to have a tickle stick (one without a hook on the end) and a net. You used the stick to get the lobsters to come out of the rocks and wrangled them into the net (only during daylight hours). This was different from my experience in California where you could only use your bare hands and you did it at night when they were out feeding. With tickle stick, net, ID’s, measuring device, flares, and a copy of the dinghy registration fine paperwork in hand, we were off the next afternoon for “Take II” of the John and Tom Great Lobster Dinner Quest, this time with some success. Working as a team, we tickled a good number out of the rocks and into the net, but most were just a bit too small. But we did bring back 4 legal lobsters, captured the legal Florida way. John fired up the grill, the gals made some side dishes, and it was a lobster feast for four!
With this success under our belts, the great white lobster hunters were off again the following day, the last day of lobster season. A number of lobsters made it into the net, but none big enough and we dejectedly returned to the boat empty-handed. I did come home with a beauty of fire coral “sting” on my stomach which burned and itched so much it kept me up for 3 nights. (Fire coral is actually a jellyfish that clings to rocks or coral and when you rub against it, it stings you.) Almost three months later, while greatly diminished, it is still visible.
So, all-in-all, our 3-day Great Lobster Dinner Quest “netted” us 4 lobsters, a $75 fine, and a massive fire coral sting. John, and his lovely wife Petti, plan to be back in Marlin Bay Marina next year, as do we if the boat hasn’t sold, and the word out is the lobster community is already planning their escape routes.
Speaking of good meals, we found the all-time deal on prime rib dinner at the Lighthouse Grill at Faro Blanco Marina before the complete shutdown of restaurants in the Keys. $20 bought a delicious 36-ounce prime rib with veggies and a baked potato. We ventured there several times, sharing meals with some of our new friends! Several restaurants were later opened for take-out only, so we supported the local economy from time to time but mostly ate on the boat as we were stocked up with 2 months of food for The Bahamas. Paula made some delicious Instant Pot meals, including applesauce and a new 1-minute potato salad recipe from boat neighbor Trish. Grocery stores remained open, but some of the shelves were bare. We didn’t see any toilet paper or paper towels in the store until literally the day before we left.
Just prior to leaving Marathon we had a diver clean the bottom. As he was doing that, Tom removed the top of the sea chest and cleaned it from the inside (easier than having the diver remove the grate and do the job from below). This was the first time he had the cover off while in the water since he installed the Sea Chest Extension.
Beginning 2 weeks before we left, thunderstorm season kicked into gear. One week, we got over 8” of rain, and the following week, about 6”. (And we’re used to a yearly total in Phoenix of 7”!) We had to wait to find a decent 4-day weather window to make the trek up the gulf to Fort Myers. We departed Marlin Bay Marina on May 27, exactly 14 weeks after arriving. Though we had some electrical problems to troubleshoot, the engines performed beautifully. It was a straight shot to Little Shark River on what had to be the hottest day of the season yet. Fortunately, once at anchor, we took several swims to cool off (no sharks seen) and enjoyed a nice breeze during the afternoon. After dinner on the aft deck, we eventually gave up and ran the generator through most of the night to cool off.
The no-see-ums drove Paula indoors the next morning as we made our way to Marco Island. (She still reacts exponentially to bites with her compromised auto-immune system.) Along the way, we had one of the largest groups of dolphins “riding” our bow wave than we have ever had. At one point there were at least 9 dolphins, including one baby.
The boat gremlins seemed to be traveling with us. Tom figured out the forward-looking sonar was toast – screen fried. And the charging devices on the flybridge were not working because the inverter was only putting out 90V (should have been 110V). Our night at anchor near Marco Island was calm even though the sky was filled with lightning. It was so hot, again, we went to bed with the generator running to keep the A/C going. Problem was, when we woke up in the morning, the generator was not running! After some investigation, Tom figured out the raw water pump was not working. So, within 24 hours, we added 3 rather big items to the “to do” list!
Since we didn’t have a generator to run the A/C, we figured another night at anchor with mid-80-degree temperatures and 85% humidity was not a great idea. We made reservations at the Fort Myers City Marina for the night. Dock power kept us cool and we enjoyed getting off the boat and eating sushi at our favorite spot in town. While there, we saw Rafe and daughter, Amanda, on Cat Daddy who we hadn’t seen since 2016 in Canada! Always fun to run into people from our past!
The next day we moved to Sweetwater Landing and Paula “shoe-horned” LT into what would be her slip for the next months. We successfully sat out hurricane Irma there in 2017, so figured it would be a good place to leave the boat through what is forecast to be a very active hurricane season. By the end of the day, we had 4 bumpers and 12 lines keeping her sung in the slip.
For the next couple of days, we went about doing the rest of the prep to leave the boat for an extended time. We took all the cushions down into the V-berth, Tom taped a few places susceptible to leaking in high winds (like the side doors), removed everything from the flybridge that could potentially fly away, and tied down the rest. Paula did a last few loads of laundry and cleaned the boat while Tom did some routine maintenance like servicing batteries and strainers. Should a hurricane threaten the area, Tom will make a trip down to do additional preparations, like removing the bimini enclosure.
We did work in a couple of meals with folks we met in Marathon. We had a nice dinner with Robert and Carolyn from Sauvy B and lunch the next day with Rick and Rhonda Spykman from R & R. (Cute name, huh?) Both times we ate at Rib City and even had the same thing…their delicious ribs!
On June second, we locked up the boat, and Rhonda, known for having a “transportation ministry,” gave us a ride to the Fort Myers airport. While we did not get the flights we had hoped for, we did make it home the same day…Phoenix…where it was 108 degrees…but it’s a dry heat. Something wrong with people who go to the desert for the summer. Guess we are just backward snowbirds.
Our plan now, assuming the boat doesn’t sell (and we do have at least one friend praying it doesn’t) is to return to the Keys next January, then head to The Bahamas for April and May. After that, we will either keep cruising, or put her in a yard sale.
Now, we just need to figure out how to survive Phoenix in the summer. In the 20+ years, we have lived here, we have spent a lot of time away with Paula flying and Tom in the Grand Canyon a good portion of the summer. So, we are open to suggestions. And remember if you invite us to visit, we fly free!
Oh, and we saw a few beautiful sunsets, and even some sunrises, along the way!
Thanks for your update, Paula and Tom. It’s wonderful to see your photos, and I loved reading about your adventures (and your run-ins with the law). Good to know you’re staying safe and (relatively) healthy. Keep well.
Thanks, Cecelia and Paul. Time for a longer email between us!