Panther Key is one of the Ten Thousand Islands off Florida's southwest coast. Zoom in there on a map. Yep, close to 10,000 islands.
After the very long and crazy day yesterday we decided to keep it short today. That said, it was still crazy.
Russ had read about the inside route out of Marco that took travelers southward. Rather than go around the outside (onto the gulf) we wandered our way between some islands. Looking at the map you'd think that was an impossible task. At times we wondered ourselves.
Panther Key. Known for it's beach.
Everything Russ saw said to do it on a rising tide, which is why we left when we did. That gave us some time in the morning to dock at the Winn-Dixie, walk around Marco Island, and get some breakfast at Hoots. Then we headed out.
It was windy and twisty and very shallow a fair bit of the way. Of course, many locals knew the route and dashed by us. We didn't try to minimize any wakes, given the narrow channel and our lack of knowledge. Just as we'd experienced over the last 2 days, tons of boats all wanting to go fast, fast, fast!
We planned on stopping in Goodland to tank up on water and top off the dinghy's fuel. The worst part of the day was doing that. We got there right around lunch time which is apparently when everyone was either coming or going, all trying to maneuver around the big cat that was in their way. Meanwhile we were just trying to get to the Safe Harbor marina without needing to call Sea Tow.
Around this area were some of out shallowest reading, around 2 feet (below the keel). We got in and docked, tanked up, fueled up, and off we were, following the chart-plotter breadcrumbs we planted coming in.
The second leg of the day was a little gulf trip. Looking out a the vast water it's amazing how shallow it is around here. Once we turned onto open water we had 3 feet beneath the keel. In fact, the deepest water was at our anchorage, 13 feet.
Winds are up a bit. We'll see how the weather is tomorrow, but all the weather say a little windy but nice water. Weather wise, the trip remains lovely.
Having seen this you get a sense of confidence about where we're heading.
This was SO not true in real time! Also, the traffic jams around the docks
don't look as bad as they were when we encountered them.
This was a crazy day. When we woke the plan was to do what we always do -- go across the state through Lake Okeechobee. After yesterday's successes our confidence in the boat had increased. Additionally, it was looking like another lovely day, which meant another ton of boats. We'd have to go through "the miserable mile", and we'd do it right around the busiest time of the day.
Well... what if we don't? The weather for the next couple of day looked rather nice, after all. Many time we came this way with the intention of going around the point of Florida, and every time something changed our minds. Seriously, there is only so much you can do in Clewiston.
So, we zigged instead of zagged, and headed to Marco Island.
The dot on the water is a bunch of mylar balloons. We practiced our MOB techniqes And rescued it. Look at that water!
We still had issued with our alternator charging the house batteries. While Russ puttered with that I noticed something peculiar. We were making fuel. I filed a complaint with the manager. I know a little about boating and one thing is as you travel you're fuel tanks shouldn't be getting filled.
Russ fiddled with the data and viola! We had less than 1/3 a tank of fuel. Which isn't bad, but full tanks would be better, especially given we wanted to make sure those gauges were correct. We all know what gauges look like with a full tank.
As the day went on the water got better.
We changed plans and headed to Naples. Russ read the diesel prices were decent. After confirming that with a phone call (and they had mooring balls) we zigged again. At the time I was a bit disappointed. Marco Island was someplace new. We'd been to Naples before. But it was a longish day so stopping, taking a dingy ride, going into town for dinner, was all sounding wonderful.
If you've never boated to Naples once you get into the channel it is crazytown! It has the fastest speed limit we've ever seen; 30 MPH. We're only an 8 knot (about 12 MPH) boat. Needless to say, the experience was like the "miserable mile" on steroids. After being waked by huge fishing charters dashing customers back and forth we arrived at the City Dock.
We asked for 400 gallons. They only had 100. "We had a rush." They explained. We asked for a mooring ball. "What's your length overall?" "45." "The max is 43 foot on the moors." Needless to say, we were miffed. They didn't mention fuel supplies might be limited (or we would have called before coming), nor did they mention a size limitation when we asked about the mooring balls.
Disgruntled, we took the 100 gallons, then beat our way back to the gulf, through the waking fishing tours and tons of tour boats, then back on the gulf.
The gulf today was absolutely fabulous, both to and from Naples. Once outside the only fret was the occasional prop trap (aka, crab pots).
We picked Smokehouse Bay to anchor in. Reviews said it was closer to the haps in town. However, it was packed, filled with sailboats. No review mentioned that. We have had this happen to us a couple of times, where sailboats stuff an anchorage. These look like residents, maybe misplace by the hurricane? Or priced out of their marinas? Sadly, not a good trend.
Marco Island, and Smokehouse Bay
Just beyond was the 2nd anchorage that reviewers said was great but small, only able to fit one boat. We went there just to peek in. And we can confirm: it will only fit one boat. And that boat is us.
Yesterday, Russ fixed the windlass. That took him a hour or so, taking the thing completely apart and putting it back together. I can attest that it does, indeed, let out rode. Tomorrow morning we'll see if it can bring it in again.
Then he fiddled with some settings, senders, and switches on all the electronics he installed the past 3 months. Turns out the engine was not, in fact, overheating, but readers and displays thingys weren't in sync. Which is always good news.
I drove most of the day while Russ tracked down all little hiccups and fixed them, and it kept him busy almost the entire time.
What it's like to be me.
Engine overheating (faulty sender)
Missing AIS data (reseated the inline fuse)
"Drunken sailor" auto-pilot AND the "speed source fault" error from the autopilot (change speed source to GPS from Tachometer, which he thinks was the default when it couldn't find the AIS information, and that made her stay true. Go figure.)
"High pressure" reading on the starboard engine (oddly tied to the next problem, so keep reading...)
House batteries weren't charging (At some point Russ had switched together both engine starter batteries, probably trying to troubleshoot our engine issues back in December. Once he disconnected them, the house started to charge just fine and the starboard oil pressure reading returned to normal.)
Due to repairs the Albee Bridge only opens every half hour.
We missed it by 2 minutes. But this give you an idea
of how many boats were out and about today.
By the end of the trip the only issue remaining was the throttle. The port side has to be nearly an inch ahead of the starboard for both engines to run at the same RPM. He made phone calls, wrote emails, and googled for answers. He did some magic while on the hook. Tomorrow we'll see if that changed anything.
That all aside this was a terrible day to boat! For me, that is. Yes, the weather was gorgeous, sunny, warm, a little windy but not an issue in the channel. Even the red tide, which has plagued the area for months now, was not a problem. But all that made every one who owned a boat get out and enjoy the day. It was flippin' Wednesday! There were tons of boats -- every kind, everywhere, and all at once (hmmm... sounds familiar). That just made doing the driving a little more tense -- frankly, I don't trust any of these people.
That dark diagonal line is the ICW. We didn't even get to it!
We knew it was incredibly positive thinking that we would head out today. We are optimistic people. Deep down, however, given the amount of stuff we mucked with, given we haven't left this slip since we docked in December, and given the fact that we only ever turned the engines on to do an oil change meant, of course, today would be nothing but a test run.
What went right? Engines started up just fine with the fancy digital display Russ installed. We backed out of the slip without issue and headed down the fairway.
Drifting on the Sarasota Bay... Sarasota in the distance.
Then it gets weird.
While in the channel out of the marina I put inQuest on autopilot. Right away I didn't like what was happening. Usually we move in a solid straight line. This time we weaved about a bit, like a drunken sailor. Also, it kept giving a new error. Russ believes we just need to reboot the autopilot. We may have to calibrate it again, which involves boating in circles and patterns until the autopilot has a clue what to do. Either way, no biggie.
Once out of the channel we put some spurs to her. The new display is digital and clearly tells us our RPMs. The throttles, on the other hand, were way off. Typically they match, so you can push them with one hand. Now the port throttle must be much further forward to get the 2 engines to match RPMS. Again, no biggie, just weird.
Then the big problems start. The starboard engine got hot. Given all this new senders and readers and work Russ had done, it's not clear that it was really hot. But we slowed down for him to take a look, bringing that engine into idle while we cruised on the port one. Cooling was slow so Russ thought it best to stop, drop and anchor, and let the motor totally cool before he gets into it. The Sarasota Bay was flat, making this no issue. We were just a few hundred feet, at this point, from the ICW.
We took one last walk today. Well... maybe it won't be, now.
A quick catchup: All the while in LBK the anchor has been sitting on the deck. Our slip has very short finger piers, so for us to get off the boat using the side exit we have to pull pretty far forward. The piers here are NOT floating, so the boat goes up and down, and in lower tides, the anchor catches on the pier. Bad news for both us and the pier, so we always pull some line out and keep the anchor on the deck.
Back on the bay, with me on one end and Russ on the other we gave the anchor a pitch overboard, which went fine. But the windlass jammed as we try to let out more rode. Russ brings it in, won't go, lets it out, won't go. Eventually we see something very un-chainlike stuck in the chain, jamming the windlass.
It's dead, Jim.
Bottom line: In order for us to boat we need engines and an anchor. And we don't seem to have either.
We limped back with one engine. Once we got off the channel we started the starboard one and we docked without any excitement.
Russ is sitting on the dock now, the windlass in pieces, trying to discover what got jammed and how. Hopefully we'll try again tomorrow.
Look closely as you'll see an owl, smack in the middle of the picture.
After all the last bits of stuff has been done we're finally getting ready to shove off. Our target is Tuesday of this week.
Of course, now that that is the case, the weather's turned. We had weeks and weeks, all winter long, of balmy days and lighter winds. The temp dropped over 20 degrees since yesterday and we've been pelted by winds. It looks like Wednesday and Thursday should be nice days to get over Gasparilla Bay and maybe Lake Okeechobee if we can get that far. However, we haven't moved once since we got here. And after all the work Russ has done on the boat we don't have a lot of faith everything will go flawlessly.
..after. Russ ordered and cut stainless strips to finish the surround on the new oven.
Russ made the flip-down panel below the stove. He did an excellent job!
We did have some visitors last week. Cousins I haven't seen since I was 5 years old flew down to visit my folks, and all drove to see Sarasota and inQuest. Frankly, if they hadn't come I'm not sure we would have cleaned the boat! She seriously needed it after weeks of being a floating garage.
The gang on the deck.
For any foodies who read my blog I have to give a shout out to two new restaurants we discovered in Sarasota that should be visited. The first is the Yummy House, which is Chinese. Our excitement is they do Dim Sum, one of my favorite-est foods. Unlike typical Dim Sum, where carts are pushed around the venue and people call out what they have within them, you get a laminated picture menu and a sharpee, and just mark what you want. It's awesome! The second restaurant is Turmeric, an Indian place. Truly outstanding! We made a point of getting there a second time before heading out. After talking to one of the proprietors we found out they came from New Jersey, where there are a bunch of Indian places. Good to know! I'm headed that way in a few months.
After weeks and weeks of projects we decided we needed a vacation. Some would say living on a boat is a vacation, and we don't disagree. But it is a fair bit of work and, well, we needed to get away from it.
The Miami Boat Show served as a good place to start. Many of the projects left us with lists of things we'd like to buy. Things like a seasucker handle (since we cut in new steps on the back we removed a handle, so a suction-type would help getting on and off the dingy without permanently installing something), a new diving hooka, an emergency self-inflating raft, and an LED searchlight to replace our current one.
BIG boats, too! Fun to check them out.
We'd been to the boat show before, but it had been a couple of years now, since before Covid. It had completely changed since then; now it was in a new location and clearly had a much higher entrance fee for the vendors. As a result, many of the small vendors weren't there. Seasucker, which had been there before, was missing, and we didn't find any LED lights. Tons of boats, engines, flooring, beds, and furniture -- all the high end stuff.
Despite that we did have a great time. We got to see the crew of High Wind again, Hannah and David. They were seeking some warmth in Miami since their boat was stuck in Baltimore. We also got to have dinner with an old high school friend of mine, Bill, who lives in Miami.
Raw bar is right next to a marina.
From there we headed south to Key West for a couple of days. Mostly we walked around the nifty town and ate pizza, tapas, and oysters (not at the same place, mind you) and sipped Dark and Stormys on the porch of the Rum House. This was our first visit to Key West since a cruise we took 25 years earlier. We even found the raw bar we ate at back then. Still open, but the $9/dozen is now $22/dozen, and that's the "happy hour" special!
Key West gecko hanging out by the boats.
During the 4 days we walked anywhere from 15k to 18k steps each day. Once we got back to the boat we kicked our feet up, needing to take a break!
Yes, we are still around. Still in Longboat Key. Still doing... stuff.
It seems there is never enough you can do for your boat, and just when you think you have it under control something totally, out-of-the-blue, happens. This morning we had no water.
Water in the tanks, pump is on, but the pump isn't working. We put in that pump about a year and a half ago while on the Ohio. These are notorious for being short lived but less that 2 years is really short.
New oven, woo hoo!
We have a spare on the boat because we are prepared. Given Russ was already doing a bunch of plumbing, this fit right in as "a bit more to do." It couldn't be just swapped out; details like affixing it to the wall and electricity had to be worked out. It took the better half of the day but Russ got it working.
We have completed:
New oven / new toaster
Replace electronics of new cooktop (oh yes, there's a story there)
Steps cut into the stern, which I'm totally jazzed about
New plumbing switches (electric, not manual)
New engines starters (since the old ones died on our way home)
Recall we just got a new cooktop? While working on the new plumbing we had a line break and a stream of water jetted right into the underside of it, shorting everything out. Rather than replace the whole unit the manufacturers sent us just the bottom part with electronics.
We do get dramatic dawns, tho
inQuest has two water tanks. We keep the front one either full or empty -- if it's half way and there's any motion from wind or waves, it sloshes, which is rather loud, making nights long and noisy. As a result we use the back solely, and when it's empty we drain the front into the back. This requires Russ to go into the engine room and open valves. Now these are electronic. With a push of a button the valves should open between the tanks. Sounds nifty. Can't wait to try it.
If you recall we had engine issues 2 days from being back in LBK. At the time Russ fixed it with duct tape. Turns out that part is not at all replaceable -- they do not make them anymore. So, Russ had to redo the electrical system including how the engines start, stop, and we get data like oil pressure and fuel gauges. That involved redoing the helm controls and installing a new chart plotter. Can't wait to try it, either.
Hopefully we're about done with the big projects and can do some fun stuff. We're planning on going to the Miami Boat Show later this month, then spend a few days in Key West.
Hard to believe we docked in our home slip over a month ago. Russ has been crazy busy with projects ever since.
The biggest, at the moment, is the ship's water. He wanted to redo how the water is distributed and filtered. He bought a UV filtration system, so the goal is have all the water pass through it before going anywhere on the boat, so even if you drink from the bathroom faucet downstairs you're getting the same, awesome water as from the kitchen. The only place with space enough to put the unit is under the kitchen sink, so everything needs to go there first, then be moved throughout the boat.
"The calm before the storm". The water looks almost glasslike.
To add to the complexity, inQuest has 2 water tanks, one fore and one aft. We tend to use only the aft tank, and when it's empty, drain the front one into it. (The front tank sits on the other side of the master suite bedroom wall. When it's half full, and if we're at anchor on less than stellar waters, it splashes loudly. So it's either full or empty.) In the past Russ had to manually manipulate valves to move the water from one tank to the other. Since he's making massive changes he's installed electric valves that he can control from, say, his phone.
Floating in LBK about 10 feet from us. The pic doesn't do it justice -- it's about 12 feet long.
I've always had this saying that no matter what DIY project you do it's going to result in at least 3 trips to the hardware store: FIRST to buy the things you need, SECOND to buy the things you really need, and LASTLY to return what you didn't need. With a boat, this is WAY worse, like 12. You'll take a minimum of 12 trips to the hardware store. Or West Marine. Or both. This project is proving that right!
With a new water system we no loner need the special spigot at the sink for drinking water. So, we're installing a soap dispenser, that has a long tube to get soap RIGHT FROM the bottle. It's the little things that excite me!
Anyway, we rang in the new year with our traditional method of going to bed around 9:30 as usual. It was awesome.
Best to you and yours in 2023. We'll see you out there!