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The Conch Republic


Sunday, October 25, 2009
Routemap 25

The flight out of Fort Lauderdale to Key West is on board a small, twin-engine prop plane that has the vibration and the engine noise of a byegone era.  Through the small portholes, I can see the aquamarine shallowness of reef-studded waters surrounding the Keys.  Puffy clouds float by, not below us so much as right next to the plane, close enough to look real.

I am one of four passengers.  Each row of seats consists of two, one on each side.  There are perhaps a dozen such rows and only four of us are using them.  Two people are tucked into the back row and I am sitting directly above the port wing, with my knapsack on the seat across the isle from me.  The next row back is occupied by Don and his luggage, arranged in mirror image to mine.  When I twist and look over my shoulder I can easily talk with Don who happens to be in the yacht trade.  He lives in the Tampa area and for the last twelve years has been delivering power boats to scattered locations throughout the eastern US.  He is flying to Key West to pick up a 65' power boat and take it back to Tampa.    He'll get off the plane in Key West, take a taxi to the harbor a mile or so away, step aboard the yacht, fire up the engines, and set off for Tampa.  He expects to arrive there tomorrow.  He has no crew with him but there are guests of the owner on board who will be able to help him with handling lines.


According to Don, docking of such a vessel is much easier than I could ever have imagined.  The drive train consists of three separate propellers that at slower speeds can be pivoted to point in any direction through 360 degrees.  The steering is done, he says, with a joy stick that by being maneuvered through any blend of front-to-back and right-to-left can cause the boat to power forward, sideways, or backward, depending on the joy stick's orientation.  Don talks to me about all this in a conversational tone that somehow mutes the remarkable nature of what he is telling me.  When I think of how stressful it is for me to maneuver little Kobuk in close quarters, I can't help but sit in stunned astonishment contemplating what money can buy.

When we disembark from the plane onto the tarmac in Key West, I feel the weight of the heat pressing me into a near-catatonic state.  It is not really so hot; I'm just not used to this.  A pink taxi takes me to Kings Pointe Marina and by well before noon I am standing next to the shuttered door of Keys Yamaha looking at Kobuk.  She sits outside on blocks and on her stern is mounted a new bracket for the outboard and a new, 20-horse Yamaha to replace the reliable old 9.9 that has pushed Kobuk through the 8,500 miles that she has covered since leaving Wyoming over four years ago.  I arranged for all this by phone with Camilo, the owner of Keys Yamaha.  He has sold me the new engine and mounted the new bracket.  Now that I am here and can open the cabin, he will be able to install the new controls as well.  But that will have to wait until tomorrow since today is Sunday and Keys Yamaha is closed.  I climb aboard and take a look around.  Kobuk is beginning to show her age, but looks to still be serviceable.  If I were a young buck, I would rush to repaint her and reoil all the mahogany, but the sun beats down and I feel enervated by the heat and the lack of sleep during last night's redeye flight from Salt Lake City.  I crawl into the bunk up forward and take a nap.

A few hours later, somewhat resuscitated, I reinflate the tires on Bike Friday and pedal off to see if the biggest little town in Florida is as I remember it.  Yes, it is.  It is only about four in the afternoon, well before sunset, but the bars along Duval Street already pulsate with the live music.  The sun shines, but one can almost feel the eager anticipation of sunset when the lights of the downtown create a golden bower beyond which the sky and the distance are nothing but darkness.  Indeed, I can still see the slanting rays of the sun when the lights start to come on.

In the middle of the evening I am walking along a side street when two men sitting at the sidewalk table of an open air bar speak to me and insist on buying me a beer so that I will sit down and talk with them.  Mark and Dave are their names.  Mark is so drunk that he cannot finish a sentence, but Dave is quite coherent and spends some time telling me how he managed to end up in Key West after growing up in Wisconsin.  He is convinced that he will never leave here.  He arrived only five months ago but he seems certain that this is his place.  If only he can find a job.


Monday, October 26 - Thursday, December 3, 2009

The whole idea was for Key West to be just another stop along the way.  Granted that storing Kobuk here for eight months was bound to cause a rash of repair and maintenance issues, but I really thought the problems would be minor since the the to-do list when I left last February was so short.  I arrived here believing that Kobuk would be prepped and ready to fly in just four or five days.  She had been in protected storage and the big jobs that needed to be done on her were supposed to have been completed by people here on site before my arrival.  Well, the unforseen occurs.  We end up paralyzed here in King's Pointe Marina for almost six weeks.  By the time we start voyaging there are only ten days left before I  have to return to Utah again.

"So what's the problem, Spike?"  This is the question my friends all ask when I return to snow and winter.  In their view, it is unseemly to complain about being "stuck" in a place like Key West.  They're right, actually.  It isn't so bad.  My arrival here in late October coincided with the start of Fantasy Fest, an annual Key West event that lasts over a week and that I had no idea existed.  Fantasy Fest is this small town's willful attempt to outdo Mardi Gras, and in my humble view it succeeds in certain respects.  I cannot believe that the New Orleans crowd manages to systematicFantasy Fest Coupleally achieve, day after day, as high a level of cold, stone drunkenness.  It cannot be that Bourbon Street achieves a more continual, twenty-four hours per day revelry.  Maybe the New Orleans music is better and more authentic but it certainly isn't any more varied or continual.  And besides, although New Orleans is in the south it is not as tropical as Key West: the people there would suffer from exposure if they were to wander around nude all day drinking beer and umbrella drinks -- standard party practice here at Fantasy Fest.  Such behavior is considered perfectly good form.  The only thing is, you're supposed to substitute body paint.  The laborious toilette that must be undertaken in order to be presentable to the general public is so extravagant and so painstaking that the intervening 50 weeks of the year must require constant planning and preparation.  There's good reason to think that the real competition for Fantasy Fest is not Mardi Gras but Rio's Carnival.

You can tell that the people here are professional partiers.  They all seem to have mastered the art of drinking too much without falling down or getting sick.  They have trained their police to treat drunks tenderly.  They seem to have genetically selected for "good drunk" behavior.  It is really quite remarkable that so many people can be so juiced up without all sorts of unpleasant things happening.  I saw no quarrels and no fist fights.  People tipsied their way along Duval Street without screaming or making obscene gestures.  I wouldn't go so far as to say that the place was orderly, but it certainly didn't decend into chaos.  Everybody is out to party and they appear to believe that this objective can best be achieved if all drunks are treated as equal before the bar.

Duval Street is the center of the action, of course, and at all times, day or night, pedestrians rule.  The crowds are so great for this small place that a constancy of flow and counterflow fills the street and both sidewalks.  Open patches of pavement momentarily appear, only to be consumed in seconds by the milling crowd.  If you wish to stand still, you will have to find an eddy, a protective obstacle of some sort that deflects the passers by and creates a sort of dead spot in the action.  After my third or fourth beer I begin to view the search for these kinds of spots as good training for guiding Kobuk against a contrary current.  The music penetrates everywhere, but with the sort of unpreRehab Is for Quittersdictability of competing radio station signals in their zones of broadcast overlap.  The street is lined with bars, of course.  This is true even when Fantasy Fest is not under way.  Perhaps every second building is something other than a bar, but during the event the non-bars become little more than pseudo-bars where the overflow from neighboring establishments spills their drinks on the floor as they stagger around gazing stupidly at the jewellery or T-shirts or ice cream coolers.

The Keys in general are inhabited by an underclass of dropouts, losers, and ne'er-do-wells.  Even your respectable citizens -- your mayors and school principles and family physicians -- are presumed to be flawed individuals with not just any old skeleton in the closet but  their very own personal one.  "Reputable" is a suspect word in this part of the world and anybody who smacks of it is presumed to be either a sham, an outsider, or hypocritical.  When Fantasy Fest is on, countless outsiders from mainstream America arrive in town and give the place a glossy veneer that otherwise does not exist.  And believe me -- those attracted from outside to attend this sort of event are not what you would call model citizens.  The scene is perversely fascinating, so rich in color and queerness that an ordinary person, unaccustomed to such blatant contrariness, finds overwhelming.  That is when you have to take a break and do something less bizarre like tour Hemingway's home or visit the Mel _____ museum of _____.


As long as Fantasy Fest was on, I found distraction from  the plight of Kobuk, but once it ended I had to confront the problems at hand.  The main problem is that the Mazda won't start.  It did start when Kobuk was first relaunched but the following morning when I said goodbye to everybody and prepared to cast off lines for the next attempt to cross to the BarmaidBahamas, the engine would not start.  I spend over a month trying to resolve this small glitch in the system.  A week it takes to absolutely isolate the problem as emanating from the control computer, and the only recourse is to ship it back to Rotary Power Marine Corporation in New York.  John Lauter repairs it and tests it and returns it to me (a one-week turnaround) and I reinstall it.  The engine fires up without hesitation, but then a few hours later the same old problem recurs: it won't start.  Once again, the computer must be returned and once again John repairs and tests it -- with logical explanations for the new source of internal circuit failure.  When I get it back (and this time it takes longer than a week) and remount it in the engine area, I am sceptical about the prospects for trouble-free engine operation.  But the engine does start and during the day I start it a number of times with no hesitation before it fires.  The next morning I motor over to the gas dock to top off the fuel before departing.  The fuel bill is paid.  I step aboard and turn the key -- and the engine won't start.  For a third time the computer gets removed and sent back to its source.  This time, the computer gets replaced.  A new one costs over a thousand dollars, but John sells me a used one that has
only a handful of hours on it and when at last I receive it in the mail and put it back in the result is satisfactory.  But by now it is December.

My good friend Dick Gardner had made plans to join me for the crossing to the Bahamas but the litany of Kobuk delays forced their postponement until at last we agreed to a mid-November rendezvous in Miami.  I was convinced that by then the engine would be fixed and our progress up the Keys would be well along.  I was wrong and in the end Dick had to take a bus down from Miami.  He spent a week aboard and we did daily bicycle trips into Key West, but by the time he had to leave the mechaniStock Island Egretscal issue was no closer to resolution than it had been when he arrived.  Kobuk had been caught in a time warp and I was numbly awaiting my personal decline into senility.

When at last the replacement computer had resolved the problem, Kobuk and I were too beaten down to take much pleasure in our imminent departure.  Usually, the mere prospect of getting out onto the water is enough to quicken the pulse, but in this case the extended delay had trained us to expect more of the same.  Reality is a curative for expectations, however, and when at last we were able to pull out of port it only took a few minutes of fresh air in the face to restore the proper attitude.

Kobuk has undergone a couple alterations since she last cruised in open water.  The Remote Troll has been replaced with a new steering system that should guide the outboard a little more effectively in these oceanic conditions.  Steering is still done using an electrical cable with a toggle switch on its end, but the engineering of the mechanical device is more substantial and should cope more effectively in these oceanic conditions.  Also, the old ten horsepower Yamaha outboard has been replaced with a new one that is rated at twenty.  I had hoped that this would increase our cruising speed by a mile per hour, but trials suggest that the gain in speed is less than that -- more like .5 mile per hour.  This is a disappointment but at least the greater power seems to be better able to drive through oncoming waves with a little more torque and a little less hesitancy.


Friday, December 4, 2008Manatee

Goodbye Stock Island.  So long King's Pointe Marina.  Adios Key West.  We're headed out the channel, shallow reefs to either side but with a great swath of aquamarine straight ahead.  Kobuk is bobbing and plunging in the train of little waves that are coming directly at us.  It is not long before we reach the outermost c
hannel buoy--the lighted one that signals safe water--and then we turn left.  It is the beginning of our run back up the keys to the east coast of Florida's mainland.  It is 1:15 in the afternoon.

Once the corner is turned, I no longer have to hold on to avoid being bucked out of the seat, but Kobuk's strong point has never been her behavior in beam seas so the motion is only mildly less intense than it was a few minutes ago.  But the water is warm, the sky is bright, and we are free at last from the wearisome constraints of dockside life.  I'm happy to be here and I think Kobuk is too.  Daily life in harbor had gotten to be a mind-numbing slog through forgettable days, trying to put right all the little things that go bad for a boat when she is left unattended for too long. 

Out here is where the Keys actually merit their reputation as a desirable place to live.  The islands themselves, the discontinuous string of skinny little islets, are not, to my way of thinking, a particularly captivating scene.  Many people choose them because of the balmy winter temperatures and the lovely sunsets, and if that is what you are after you really have come to the right place.  But for the ordinary person this means you're going to have to live in a trailer park, separated from your neighbor by little more than the width of Kobuk's beam.  Either that, or its an overpriced apartment in a concrete cube or a faux-hobo's existence camped out on a derelict hull anchored offshore--with dinghy duty obligatory if your going to grocery shop or bar hop.  Granted, this last option has its merits, but at least from my point of view it only attracts if the vessel is in good enough condition to seriously consider an eventual escape.

But here in Hawk Channel, the Keys are altogether different.  With the water so clear and the bottom so near, it is a boaters delight to view the ocean as a three-dimensional thing.  Fishes, there are many.  Marine life here abounds perhaps more so than along any other stretch of developed coast that Kobuk and I have passed.  Even in the less than pristine waters of King's Pointe Marina, you can watch the manatees come an go (and even bring them to you with a garden hose, for they like to drink fresh water), or stare at schools of minnows that dart away in disarray whenever something larger makes a strike at them.  Jet drive issues and other mechanical matters often have obliged me to take a swim in marina waters, but only here in the keys have I been able to do it without feeling squeamish.

As we motor along, the keys lie off the port beam, a mile or two away.  From this vantage, they appear more pristine and less developed than they actually are.  Mangroves line thei shores and whitewashed homes only breast the waterfront in occasional clusters.  No key is very large--at least, down here in the  lower ones--and when after a couple miles it peters out, a bridge  runs across the short stretch of open water to the next one. It is a thin band of green, with splashes of white, and an occasional structure of bronzed concrete--all of it elongated like pulled taffy, with blue sky above and aquamarine below.

We are headed for Cudjoe, not so far along since our departure was so late in the day.  In the last hour before reaching the entry channel, the steering for the outboard stops working.  It is the last straw, and for the first time since my arrival in the Keys six weeks ago I feel a surge of anger course through me at the injustice of it all.  "Stow it, Spike.  You're doing what you want to do, unlike almost everybody else in the world, and you're going to get agitated by such a little thing?"  By the time the Mazda has driven us up the long, buoyed route thzrough the shallow waters of Cudjoe Bay my mood is much improved and I can begin to appreciate the peaceful, bowered channel leading to Cudjoe Gardens Marina.

Depart King's Pointe Marina, Stock Island:     24* 33.848' N  /  81* 43.793' W
Cudjoe Gardens Marina, Cudjoe Key:              24* 39.480' N  /  81* 30.331' W
Distance:                                                              21 miles
Total Distance:                                                    8,669 miles


Saturday, December 5, 1009

Temptation comes in many flavors, and for me today it comes in vanilla--as in vanilla clear skies and vanilla smooth waters and vanilla soft winds.  When I awaken and look out, the sky is nothing but gay buntings of white posted in a blue field, and the wind is a baby kitten.  What little wind there is is coming from the west.  The conditions right now are ideal for a thirty mile run off eastward to Boot Key, and once we get there we can find a protected harbor.  But the forecast--it talks of a front moving in from the west.  It is expected to reach us sometime this afternoon and with it will come thunderstorms and rain.  After it passes, winds will pick up and shift to the north.  For voyaging, now is ideal and after the front will not be so.  But when will the front arrive?  For us, the trip to Vaca Key will take until around two in the afternoon.  Would we get there before the front?  If the front arrives before we have made harbor will it be hard for us to handle?  is , it says, and it should reach us sometime this afternoon.  There is no suggestion of how strong the winds will be when the front passes and Until then, whatever light winds are playing will be from the west as well.  Should Kobuk and I go out.  We are headed east, only about thirty miles, and I expect that we could make it to Marathon before the middle of the afternoon.

I am considering the matter as I walk up to the harbormaster's office to pay for my overnight stay.  The harbormaster is a  snaggle-toothed, doughface named Allen, an even tempered man with a gentle streak and an alert look in his eyes.  Behind the counter he has a  screen showing doppler radar for the region and even as he i
Cudjoe Keys asking me  what I plan to do with weather moving in, I look morbidly at the great huge blobs of red and yellow approaching the Keys from the west.  The issue is settled: I will stay here for the day.  I pretend that it was an obvious choice, one that good sense dictates, and Allen is satisfied that I have made the right choice.  What he doesn't know, of course, is that it was neither the NOAA forecast nor his gently couched warnings that closed the deal: it was the doppler.  The old addage that a picture is worth a thousand words has some merit in some circumstances--although life is really made up of processes, and images by their static nature are not so good at capturing the passage of time.  In this instance, though, yes, the picture was worth a thousand words.  It showed a more or less continuous line of rain running northeast-southwest for over a hundred miles, and not that far away.

The presumption behind the saying, however, is that the picture provides a visual record of reality and that our heavy reliance on vision somehow makes observation more compelling than any mental concept that is elicited by mere symbols like words.  I accept the part about the importance of the visual sense, but what bemuses me is the undeniable fact that a picture also is nothing but symbols.  Clouds are not yellow and rain is not red, and in any event there is little likelihood that we would be seeing either fom some vantage point high above the earth's surface.  The doppler image is hardly a picture in the same way that a  photo of a boat thrashing around  under slashing rain would be.  And yet, the abstract image of clouds and rain shown as a feature over a distance that would be impossible to actually see probably has had more emotional effect on me than the "ship in a storm" photo would have done.  Doppler tells me I can't escape it, it's coming my way, it's unavoidable.  The ship in a storm only tells me that even if we do happen to get hit we would be able to survive--intimidating, but not a deal-killer.


In any event, the day progresses exactly the way NOAA and doppler and Allen predicted.  A perfectly wonderful morning gives way to overcast and then heavy rain in the early afternoon.  But the winds never do get very strong and it all clears out in only a couple hours, leaving us once again under blue skies, but now with a breeze out of the north.  Kobuk could have managed out there but I am pleased not to have gone, pleased to have exercised caution and what in my view is good judgment.

The steering problem with the outboard, incidentally, has disappeared.  When we arrived at the marina last night, an elfin little man with a goat
ee identified himself as a mechanic and I invited him aboard to take a look at things.  He was more interested in the improbable Mazda than the rather mundane issue of not being able to steer the outboard, but eventually I corralled him into taking a look at the issue at hand, and after five minutes of fiddling--during which time the controls sometimes worked and sometimes did not--we concurred that the thing was to not steer the engine to either extreme.  If the electric steering pushed the outboard to the extreme left or extreme right, the controls seemed to stop working for some unpredictable length of time.  I feel as if things on board are beginning to get back to normal: this business of mysterious and unpredictable behavior on the part of mechanical systems has been a hallmark of our entire trip.   The only questions have been "Which piece of equipment is going to act up?" and "When is it going to quit for good?"


Sunday, December 6, 2009


It's early morning and the sun is still painting rose and slate on the bellies of the scattered clouds.  We are in the channel heading out of Cudjoe Bay toward what in this neck of the woods is considered to be deep water: 15-25 feet.  It is still a few miles to the open sea but it is visible out there, a serious and steadfast blue that contrasts with the multi-hued mottle that surrounds us here near Cudjoe.  Our channel is deep, though, and the red and green markers give a connect-the-dots description of its s
inuous passage seaward.  I am standing beside the seat, steering with the Yamaha control and looking out the slot between the cabin and its open clamshell top.  Directly ahead, a dark form,backlit by the sun, suddenly breaks out of the water and shoots straight up.  It rises, hesitates, and drops, like an event that starts to happen but then changes its mind.  The shape of the projectile was short and broad with flopping delta wings and a long rat's tail.  Kobuk and I have seen our first ray.

Some may think that only humans play and that other animals don't.  One can point out the foolish antics engaged in by all sorts of baby creatures--bear cubs, puppies, ducklings--but those who view playfulness a particularly human behavior would dismiss this as nothing more than an aspect of childhood (never mind that the same is pretty much true for humans).  But if a ray might play then what creature--no matter how small its brain or prehistoric its body structure--might not?  A ray is not the sort of creature we would generally view as fun-loving.  It is a prejudice, for sure, but ray
s look sullen and sinister and it is hard to imagine a temperament that would not match.  But a ray that jumps straight up from the water and then flops back down--what interpretation are we to put on such behavior?  Nothing I can think of but play explains it.  If it were a shallow trajectory with the outstretched delta wings extending the flight, well, then we might presume something predatory or evasive.  But to do a maneuver for which the physical structure is ill adapted, like a hog walking a fence railing, suggests that the fellow was only fooling around.

This is only the second day on the water but already the worries and struggles of dockside life are fading from my consciousness.  When out here, the water separates me from human affairs so completely that even radio news or cities on the shore only touch my surface and cannot disturb the deeper sense of contentment.  Often a mild pain develops in my jaw and when it becomes sufficient for me to notice I realize it is nothing more than the side effects of continuous smiling.  It is not as if things don't go wrong on the water.  Far from it.  They go wrong all the time.  But there is nothing oppressive about the problems, no wearying sense that they will persist month after month, year after year.  They are solvable problems--either that or they will not yield and the voyage will come to an end.  Either way, they do not cast a cloud over the more distant future.  Fear?  Anxiety?  Frustration?  Yes, yes, yes, but these are emotions that have some life to them, unlike the discouragement associated with trying to pay off a mortgage or make career advancement.

We are alongside Bahia Honda now.  The old Flagler bridge with the missing span is just aft of the port beam and the white sand beach of the island's Atlantic side is near beside us.  There is nobody on the beach and the shallow waters by it are an aquamarine invitation.  But we keep on motoring until the littler keys--Missouri, Ohio, and ____--slip by as well.  Now what's left for the day's voyage is to run along side the seven mile bridge, cross under it near the Marathon end, and then cruise a couple miles along the north coast of Vaca Key to find a marina for the night.  When you are in a small boat, the seven mile bridge is a reassuring sight--but not for any good reason.  If a problem arises there is no sensible way to tie off at the bridge and if the weather were up it would be better to stay away from it anyway.  It just looks substantial and stationary, and even pretty, and this alone is enough to provide some sort of odd comfort.

In the end, I take Kobuk back into Banana Bay Marina, the same place we stayed last February after coming through the Everglades and crossing to the Keys.  There are no good anchorages nearby.  The whole of Vaca Key is given over to Marathon, more or less the "second city" of the Keys, and outside of _____ Bay the coastline is a fairly continuous run of development.  After tieing off Kobuk and cleaning house, I cycle off to Hurricane, the same restaurant and bar where I was eating last February when a furious microburst came through with 60-70 mph winds and truckloads of rain--the event that worked Kobuk's aft line free, chewed up her starboard bow chine, and weighed her down with hundreds of pounds of rainwater--all in less than twenty minutes.  This time the weather holds and I spend a couple hours watching the New York Giants do good things to the Dallas Cowboys.

Banana Bay Marina, Vaca Key:     24* 43.007' N  /  81* 05.049' W
Distance:                                          35 miles
Total Distance:                                8,704 miles


Monday, December 7, 2009

Now we're on the Gulf of Florida side of the Keys where offshore really is nothing more than a broad shallows extending only tens of miles before fetching up against the Florida mainland coast.  Each mile we travel up the chain of Keys will diminish the breadth of Florida Bay and interrupt it with more and more low-lying, mangrove-fringed islets.  It is, in short, an environment more suited to Kobuk's river-loving character.  The channel of the ICW runs along this side, and that means a steady parade of cans and nuns to keep us on the straight and narrow.  The waters here are deceptive since broad areas many miles across will maintain a constant depth of around 6-8 feet, making the designation of the ICW's path seem a bit silly.  But then a long, thin ridge that is serpentine in character will snake across our intended direction of travel.  The ridge will not be visible since it remains below water level, but often its spine will rise to within a foot of the surface of the bay--a true hazard for any boater who doesn't pay attention to the buoys.  We have very fine conditions for our voyage--smiling skies and a light, following breeze.  As we put Vaca Key and Grassy Key behind us and come abreast of Duck Key, we can see the Long Key Viaduct off the starboard bow and this opening to the Atlantic side somehow gives the breeze a little lift and puts a bit more punch in the chop--even though all this is coming from behind us.  There is more of a feeling of being out to sea, and as if to make it more real I notice a dorsal fin coming at us about 40 degrees off the starboard bow.  It submerges and then comes up again alongside Kobuk, a dolphin porpoising at our speed.  Obviously, it is play, but that is accepted by many since dolphins are acknowledged to be "smart."  But the game does not last long--only a few surfacings--and then our companion disappears.  Some might view this as symptomatic of ADD, but who can blame the poor creature when Kobuk and I are so slow?

Long Key is the next in the chain.  Its shape is an invitation to spend the night since the northeastern half is shaped like a crab's claw with the commodious Long Key Bight between its pincers.  For those of us who are enchanted by maps, that looks like a romantic place to drop anchor.  But stopping there would make for a short day and I decide to carry on up as far as Lignumvitae Key, a gumdrop island that is preserved from development as a state park.  There are good anchorages on both sides of Lignumvitae Key, and the name alone seems worth stopping for.  The decision is made to carry on for a few more miles and as if to reward us for our decision a flying fish loops out of the water beside us and zings across in front of Kobuk's bow at what for such a small and delicate creature would have to be considered breakneck speed.  When this near-transparent projectile returns to water it bounces back up as if made of rubber and shoots off into the distance skipping and slowing like a flung, flat stone stuttering across smooth water.

Now we are far enough into Florida Bay that signs begin to appear off the port bow indicating that to go in that direction will put one in Everglades National Park where boats are not view of Matecumbe Keypermitted to go aground.  If you do so, the injury done to your boat is likely to be compounded by the insult of having to pay a fine to the National Park Service.  From this point on, Florida Bay is shallower than your average swimming pool--a pool that is hundreds of square miles in territorial extent and far more filled with marine life than even the most elaborate aquarium.  This seaward extension of the Everglades is the a part of the park that most Americans do not know exists.  It is, perhaps, the more inviting part for its expansive waters shimmer in the tropical sunlight and the littering of islets has a mystical look of unapproachable stillness.

We arrive at Lignumvitae Key less than an hour before sunset, and the imposing wall of vegetation that cloaks its roughly circular shape does not exactly invite exploration.  To the southeast, there is a channel running towards the bridge that connects Upper and Lower Matecumbe Keys.  I take Kobuk up the channel to the end of Lower Matecombe where there is a marina that may have gas.  Robbie's Marina lies tucked up next to the Bay side of the bridge, and it looks like a movie set for some sort of television sitcom.  There is a collection of off-kilter wooden docks that extend out into the small embayment at odd angles and on shore you can see a string of clapboard shacks that house not just an open-air dockmaster's office but also open-air concessions for a restaurant, for curio shops, for scuba and fishing outfitters.  Everything is set at obtuse angles and the shacks themselves have palm frond roofs.  The lack of order is a delight, actually, and so is the lack of concrete.  When I tie Kobuk to the outer end of one dock and look down into the water, it is swarming with an alarming population of oversized fish--tarpon that run 2-4 feet in length.  They are closely packed and swirl around like minnows in a school.  But they are so big that it all looks mutant.  It turns out that at Robbie's people can feed the fish (and the birds) and this maintains a prodigious population.

After poking around at the marina for a half hour or so, I push off and head under the bridge over to the Atlantic side.  The sun has dropped now and the blue-gray light is gradually darkening.  Only about a mile offshore is Indian Key, another state park island.  There are mooring balls off its southwest side and in the fading light I pick up a mooring and attach Kobuk to it.  Nobody is out here and the darkening sky only reveals a few lights along the shores of the Matecumbes.  It is an unusually cloud-free night and as I sit in the aft of Kobuk I can look beyond the Bimini to where the stars glitter by the hundreds.

Indian Key Anchorage:     24* 52.564' N  /  80* 40.849' W
Distance:                            32 miles
Total Distance:                  8,736 miles

 


Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Since Indian Key is a state park with nobody living on it, there is every good reason to make a short visit before setting off towards Key Largo.   The island is roughly circular and probably no more than a quarter mile in diameter, and here on the southwest side a dock has been constructed for day visitors.  The dock is massive, actually--not in terms of length Indian Keybut rather in the sense of being overbuilt.  The support pilings look sturdy enough to tie a cruise ship to and the surface of the dock is higher than Kobuk's bimini.  All this bulk and yet the run of the dock would hardly accommodate the length of a traditional schooner (which, given the shallow water hereabouts, probably would goaground before ever reaching the dock anyway).

Although now overgrown with indigenous vegetation and exotic trees imported by early residents, Indian Key contains the foundational ruins of an early 19th century settlement that had a gridded street layout on the northern half of the island--the side facing the run of the Keys.  Indian Key is a sort of outlier, a displaced little patch of land about a mile away from the discontinuous string of the Middle Keys.  When you look across the water you see not just Matecumbe and Islamorada but also the bridge that connects them.  It all is close enough that you can see the traffic streaming across the bridge and hear the hum of all its wheels.  It is an odd sensation because on Indian Key itself there is real silence; watching the goings on across the water is like watching some improbable event that could in no way occur in your own location.   It's a little like watching a movie that is set in, say, the Australian Outback, while you are seated in a darkened theatre where the character of the Outback is utterly lacking.

The stillness of this place--this Indian Key--is appropriate to its history.  That early settlement, you see, was wiped out by a band of enraged Seminoles who were reacting to the news that there were plans afoot to displace them westward.  Some of the settlers escaped and some were killed, but in any event the little village was put permanently out of business.

The plan for today is to run up as far as Key Largo.  It is not far away--only about thirty miles--and it should be possible to do the first third of the voyage along this Atlantic side of the Keys before cutting through to the Gulf side at Snake Creek.  The wind and waves are adverse, but now in the morning there is little force to them and by afternoon we should be safely sheltered on the Gulf side with Key Largo as our protector.

In less than two hours of chunking through the slop, we approach the Snake Creek channel and I fire the Mazda to negotiate its convoluted path.  There is supposed to be a marina just past the bridge over the channel, but my cruising guide does not clarify on which side of the channel it will be found.  As we slip under the bridge, Smuggler's Cove Marina and Restaurant appear on both sides--the marina to starboard and the restaurant to port.  But we're after fuel and there's a big sign for fuel on the restaurant side, so we head for it.  As we curl around a protective breakwater, the Mazda quits and I have to scamper around Kobuk's perimeter fending off of boats and pilings until at last I am able to pull us into an empty slip on a weatherbeaten dock.  The entire place has a tawdry look to it, but there is a restaurant, it is open, and the woman tending bar gives me help and sustenance--coffee to start with, but beer before we're done.

That the Mazda has broken down is of course distressing, but on this occasion I correctly troubleshoot the problem as being a defective relay.  I havertoo little confidence to accept my own diagnosis without confirmation by a certified mechanic, though, so I end up paying $50 for one to issue a concurring second opinion.  A relay--that's a simple device.  It will only cost a few dollars.  The nearest auto supply stores are up in Key Largo, about twent miles away, but before cycling all that distance I decide to call them to see if they have the part.  None of them do, so before the day is over I have had to contact John Lauter in New York, get the name of a company in Minnesota that can provide me with what I need, and then call that company to order some relays.  The shipment will come overnight and I should have it by tomorrow morning sometime.  It is just one more day of waiting.  Not much--just one more day.


Smuggler's Cove, Islamorada:     24* 57.142' N  /  80* 35.324' W
Distance:                                       10 miles
Total Distance:                              8,746 miles


Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Time in the Florida Keys runs at a slower pace than elsewhere so the guaranteed 10:00 AM delivery of the relays happens a bit later than that.  And then when I unpackage them they turn out to be different from the one that needs to be replaced: they each have one less post than does the old one.  This puts me into an agitated state, of course, and I initiate a stream of phone calls but I can do nothing more than leave messages on voice mails.  While waiting for someone to call me back, I take the time to examine the situation a bit more carefully, and--wouldn't you know it--there appears to be an unused post on the old relay.  When I insert the new relay it fits fine and the engine fires up immediately.  We're in business, so we motor over to the other side of the Snake Creek Channel to get some gas before heading off to Key Largo.

The Snake Creek Channel is a natural passageway that happens to cut right through Islamorada where it is at its thickest.  Off the starboard beam passes the Village of Islands, a series of parallel, dead-end canals that are lined with houses and boats.  The canals are separated from each other by engineered peninsulas of land that are exactly wide enough to accommodate a home lot, a residential street, and another home lot.  This Village of Islands is actually more like a comb with each tooth being a sliver of such land.  The homes glisten in the sun and their private boat docks are rarely empty.  The landscaping looks like the work of hired help.  This opulence contrasts sharply with the general appearance of the Keys as seen from Highway 1.  The highway (which I did happen to traverse via Greyhound last February) is about 100 miles of unremitting strip development that may on occasion look upbeat and lavish but that usually has the sort of unruly disorder that we so often find along a major arterial leading out of a large American city.  Only when you get away from the highway do you begin to find the sort of tropical suburban paradise that attracts Americans sick of winter.  Putting the highway out of sight is not so hard, given the lavish greenery of the Keys, but escaping from the hum and vibration of passing motorists is another matter.  Most of the Middle Keys are long, skinny affairs that often are not more than a half-mile wide.  I could faintly hear the passing traffic even when anchored close by Indian Key--some distance offshore--so I imagine that the residents of the Village of Islands can hear it too.  For me, complete silence would be more desirable, but I suppose that for many who are more modern than me the distant sound of traffic is somehow reassuring.

Once Kobuk and I have passed into Florida Bay, there is a gentle following breeze and an islet-littered slab of aquamarine water.  The islands float on the surface of the bay like hydroponic bouquets of greenery, each one like every other and none any higher than a monkeypod tree.  The islands are small but everywhere in this large bay, so numerous as to blot out any residual sign of the oceanic horizon to the north.  With each mile that we move deeper into the bay, the islands become more and more clustered and connected until their individual isolation begins to coalesce into long, skinny strings of lowland threading across the waters of the bay.  Surely there would be days when the wind would get up and make aNear Key Largo choppy mess of these bay waters, but today the wind is down and the littering of undeveloped islands scattered about creates an illusion of implacable calm.  Off to starboard the inhabited Keys run like a string with homes and other signs of humanity hacked out of the greenery, but out here in the bay the untouched islands are natural clones of each other, varying in size but in every instance completely cloaked in shrubs and trees that roll right down to the water as if it is socially inappropriate to show one's shoreline.

It is not long before the open expanses of Florida Bay are ovewhelmed by the proliferating islands that break it into smaller chunks and bits.  We we begin to thread our way through a set of smaller bays that are each surrounded by land and connected to one other with natural channels: Buttonwood Sound, Grouper Creek, _____ Sound, Dusenbury Creek, Blackwater Sound.  And now here in Blackwater Sound--an oversized pond, really--the urban heart of Key Largo lies to starboard.  I take Kobuk in close to look for some place where we might spend the night and eventually end up tied to a dock that belongs to The Big Chill, a restaurant/bar/hotel owned by Jimmy Johnson--the eternally-smiling, fair-haired  football coach who you see on television if you ever watch Fox NFL Sunday.

The Big Chill appears to be the class act in this neighborhood, even though there is a fair amount of competition.  I end up here because the place has wifi in its bar so I can drink and work at the same time.  It is quite a nice facility, actually--mildly grandiose with high ceilings, elaborate decor, and tasteful outdoor landscaping.  It looks as if a lot of locals frequent the place and not just visitors checked into the upstairs rooms.  Nightlife is definitely more than half of all life everywhere here in the Keys, so it is not too surprising that when the sun goes down the place just gets busier and busier.  There is a steady stream of good looking women passing through.  This is something that has always puzzled me.  It seems as if all attractive women are bound and determined to compete with each other directly.  If they are out on their own or with girlfriends, they seem to all head for the same place--the place that in Key Largo is called The Big Chill.  Surely, the women realize that The Big Chill is going to be crawling with other women who are drop dead gorgeous, but still they choose to come.  Wouldn't you think some of them would consider going elsewhere--somewhere where their own beauty is less likely to be overshadowed.  But then, I suppose all the men of means are headed to The Big Chill too.

After finishing my work and having dinner, the crowd has warmed up and the place as abuzz with laughter and loud talk.  I cannot leave Kobuk tied to the dock overnight, so when the evening gets more advanced I eventually walk across the lawn and out the dock to untie her.  We slip out onto Blackwater Sound, a few hundred yards offshore, and drop the hook.  The bay is calm and the air is mild.  I go to bed with the gentle sound of wavelets smacking Kobuk's hull and the cheerful distant clink and chatter The Big Chill nightlife drifting across the water.

Big Chill Anchorage, Key Largo:     25* 08.809' N  /  80* 23.909' W
Distance:                                            21 miles
Total Distance:                                  8,766 miles

 

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Now at last I feel as if the voyage is becoming real--something that does not happen at first.  In the early days of voyaging there is excitement to be on the water again and anticipation about what may lie ahead, but only after there is an established routine does the undertaking begin to have any sort of spiritual significance.  The business of being "in the zone," of getting up and away each day and then running down the miles to reach a designated spot becomes a sort of ritual that provides me with the sort of comforting reassurance that others might derive from regularly attending communion or knitting another comforter.  Enough days have now passed that when I get going this morning--eating breakfast, stowing loose gear, pulling anchor--I have that satisfying sense that I am doing what I am supposed to be doing.

I didn't expect to have this feeling since this little cruise is limited to such a few days.  Ordinarily, Kobuk and I would be jaunting along for weeks at a time without a break--usually at least a month or two--but this time the mechanical problems in Key West chewed up over five of the seven weeks that were available and so  now we are limited to a mere ten days on the water.  Never before have we set off when I have had a deadline date by which to be in a particular place with Kobuk stored away and me ready to catch a flight back to Utah.  This time, though, I had already bought my airline ticket back home before we ever left Key West.  This sort of fixed schedule has never before been a part of the plan, but this time around it was unavoidable.  Kobuk and I need to be in the Fort Lauderdale area by this weekend, and that has been a given ever since we departed.  There is still the nagging concern with whether another mechanical breakdown might not complicate things, but the more problematic matter, the lurking worry, always is whether the weather will cooperate.  If bad weather sets in during the last days of a voyage--when the ultimate arrival point is still some distance away--the schedule has the potential to force a bad decision, a choice for us to run in wind and waves when we ought not.  But now that risk is largely behind us.  From here on we will have much more protection on the ICW.  Bad weather could still oblige us to  bang around uncomfortably but nowhere will we have so much open water that to do so would be foolish.  There is still Biscayne Bay, of course--thirty miles of broad, shallow waters--but today is mild and unthreatening and by this afternoon we should easily reach Boca Chita which is more than half the distance to the bay's north end.

It is a hot day today, a summer day in the middle of December.  Well, maybe not quite that hot but hot enough to take me down.  The Keys in late fall and early winter seem to have just two kinds of days.  Winter days when the mild temperatures dip low enough to start thinking about a sweater, days when the wind probably coming at you from the north; and then summer days when a light wind coming from the south is not strong enough to evaporate the sweat from your skin.  This is of the latter type.  We cruise along through Barnes Sound and Card Sound and then across the shallow but submerged sandbar that separates forms an invisible border between Card Sound and Biscayne BayFlorida Bay is behind us now and the southern tip of the Florida peninsula is off our port beam.  Biscayne Bay is a stretch of broadwater sandwiched between the mainland and a string of barrier islands, on of which is where we're headed: Boca Chita.

Boca Chita is just a bead on the string, a postage stamp that would be measured in acres rather than square miles, and it is separated from its neighbors to the north and the south by narrow channels that a good arm could pitch a stone across.  Boca Chita used to be a privately owned retreat on which the wealthy owner not only built and landscaped his getaway home but also constructed a small lighthouse standing little more than twice the height of the nearby palms.  The lighthouse, furthermore, marks the entrance into a yachtBoca Chita basin that I would imagine was also the magnate's creation.  The rich guy, though, he gave up on this private little paradise when his wife had a bad accident there.  Now the land is part of Biscayne Bay National Park and the park service does a good job of maintaining it--even though there is no park ranger residing there.  The fees collected for using the park and for tieing off in the basin are collected on the honor system--which I dishonored.  I did not have to pay the park usage fee since I have the senior pass that gets me into any of the national parks free, but I was supposed to put ten dollars in an envelope to pay for Kobuk's overnight stay.  I only had eight dollars and a couple twenty dollar bills so I opted to underpay.  They have my name and address but I don't suppose they'll come after me for two dollars.

From Boca Chita one can look northward across Biscayne Bay and see the tall buildings of downtown Miami clustered in the distance.   The land and islands surrounding the entire southern half of Biscayne Bay are a National Park, so the sight of Miami on the far horizon contrasts with the coastal wilderness to be seen most everywhere else.  I took all this in while walking around Boca Chita.  The island can easily be circumambulated in 15-20 minutes, but I cut the outing short out of due respect for the mosquitoes who appeared to resent my presence.  Back at Kobuk, I lathered up with bug juice and then spent a few hours doing office work at a picnic table nearby.  When night arrived and it was time to sleep, the zipped curtains kept the mosquitoes at bay but made the still, hot air even more stifling.  Sometime soon I am going to have to work out a solution to the problem of dead air up in the bunk area under the bow.  In cool climates it is a pleasure because it traps body heat, but now we're in the tropics and I must reluctantly consider putting a hole in the forward deck.  I have taken a stopgap measure--installation of a small fan forward--but whenever I use it I worry about running the battery down if it is left on all night.  Maybe someday I should actually let it run all night just to find out whether the problem is real or imaginary.

Boca Chita Key Harbor:     25* 31.441' N  /  80* 10.491' W
Distance:                              32 miles
Total Distance:                    8,798 miles


Friday, December 11, 2009

Between Boca Chita and Miami, Biscayne Bay is only partially protected from the Atlantic.  A string of shoals runs between Boca Chita and Key Biscayne, and that takes the punch out of any heavy weather coming in from seaward, but neither reefs nor islands break the surface of the sea, so rough chop must be a common feature in this upper part of the Bay.  When I awake in the morning, the wind is out of the northeast--the direction most likely to make our passage uncomfortable--but the waters of the Bay look manageable.  We set out Miami Skylineright away on the theory that if conditions change they will only get worse.  This is one of the few times when a view of conditions from land turns out to be accurate; things are no worse than they looked from shore and after a reasonably stress-free couple hours we close in on Miami.

With the waterfront skyscrapers looming ahead, a sailboat comes off the port shore like a rocket.  There are other sailboats cruising about over there, but this particular one blows by them all like a greyhound on steroids.  As it angles towards us and gets a little closer, I can see that it is actually a small monohull sloop with a hydrofoil.  Its entire hull is out of the water and its forward motion is not just fast but completely untouched by the waves and chop.  It is running at a speed that would be pretty much comparable with Kobuk when the Mazda is at full throttle.  This is quite impressive and it gets me to thinking about constructing a hydrofoil.  A major problem with them is of course the vulnerable wing structure down below water level--an assembly that is hard to attach to the hull and that would not take kindly to any sort of grounding.  But what if the hydrofoil were attached to the two hulls of a catamaran?  I should think that the attachment could be much stronger since it could be anchored on both hulls.  This sub-surface wing assembly still would be susceptible to easy damage, but to a far lesser d
Miamiegree.  Plus, I should think it would not have to project down so far into the water. . . .  And on and on my mind mulls over the question.  In fact, I know virtually nothing about hydrofoils (except that Alexander Graham Bell developed a successful prototype up in Cape Breton) but that does not stop me from coming up with all sorts of grand schemes for how to build one.  Some would say I have too much time on my hands, I suppose, but this speculative business is really quite fun.

 Eventually, we cross under the _____ Bridge and the skyline of Miami looms above us.   It is not a sunny day: the sky is littered with gauze and a light haze has chased away any hint of shadows.  Colors of everything are diluted and diminished by the whiteness of the atmosphere, but even so it is evident that downtown Miami has lots of new highrises painted in a pleasing variety of pastel colors.  This is not what the place looked like when I last visited--about thirty years ago.  Of course, to approach a city by land is a totally different experience from doing so by sea.   Almost always, the sea approach is more dramatic and abrupt: there stands the city--you can see the skyline in the distance and it only changes by getting enlarged as you close in, but then suddenly you are right downtown, right at the heart of the whole enterprise.  You never have to push on through exurbs and suburbs as you would have to do if you were approaching by road.  First the city it is a distant profile near the horizon and then suddenly you are so close that you can hear the traffic and the other street sounds.  Well, here we are in downtown Miami.  Maybe not actually downtown, but so close to downtown that we can observe it.  It is nice, I guess, but for me there is always something disturbing about a place where the buildings are taller than anything for hundreds of miles.

Kobuk is now working her way up the ICW.  The big bays are behind us and now the channel is closing in.  For a few miles past the Miami CBD, it remains a buoyed channel in a rather broad expanse of water, but land pinches in inexorably from both sides as we motor along and before we have left the built up area of the city behind we are in that old familiar water corridor--a chann
Near Williams Islandel of a few hundred yards breadth with bridges leaping over it like lemmings jumping into the sea.   Now we can forget about mangroves and aquamarine waters and alligators.  We're in upscale, urban Florida.  We are on the nautical equivalent of an arterial route out of a city.  On both sides, highrises and homes are organized on the landscape in an orderly way that affords as many of them as possible some sort of access to this waterway.  Dead end canals branch off, one after another, mile after mile, giving the region an unholy amount of waterfront property--engineered into waterfront but waterfront nonetheless.  As always, the waterfront land is desirable land so you don't see much poverty or grit hereabouts.  It has all been prettified.

Prettiest of all is the development on and surrounding Williams Island, a planned community sandwiched between the ICW and Maule Lake.  I have found the phone number for a marina there and when I call the woman who answers lets me know that, yes, they do have room for a transient boat and that she will make s
ure there is someone out near the ICW to flag me down and show me the way into the marina.  When I arrive, she makes the apprearance herself.  She waves to me and directs me off to port along a channel to Maule Lake, and then to starboard along the back side of the island, and then after passing five 100+' yachts in a row to starboard once again into the narrow marina channel, and then to port as Kobuk approaches an engineered island in the middle of an island, with docks surrounding it on all sides.  Deep within the marina there is a floating dock, and Maria has me tie up there.

Williams Island Marina, Maule Lake:     25* 56.599' N  /  80* 08.252 W
Distance:                                                    33 miles
Total Distance:                                          8,831 miles


Saturday, December 12, 2009


Kobuk and I recline in a protective cocoon.  We are on an island that has land no more than a few hundreds of yards away on any side.  Actually Williams Island appears to be just a peninsula but the connecting neck is a gated, guarded single-entrance access designed to give the illusion of an island.   The island has nothing on it that was not expressly designed to be here.  There are about eight 25-story apartment buildings scattered about and then such infilling facilities as tennis courts, small shops, swimming pools, club house, and fancy restaurant.  There is of course this marina and its configuration is a testimonial to how thoroughly everything here has been engineered and designed into existence.  The narrow-neck entrance to the marina leads to a lollipop of water with an island taking up most of its middle.  And then that island has a flyover pedestrian bridge connecting to Williams Island  proper.  This is not a divine design or the work of Mother Nature.  It is an entrepreneurial vision of what people want.   It is altogether impossible to visualize what must have existed on this site in pre-Columbian times.  Maybe it was swamp.  Maybe it was mainland.  Maybe it was the bottom of the lagoon.  Who knows.  Now, though, now it is an expression of nothing but human notions of how people with money would like to live.  It is quiet here.  The landscaping is lovely and the architecture tasteful.  Even the apartment buildings are tolerably pleasing to the eye.  Of course the place is dead.  There is no nightlife and the only cultural diversity that can be seen is provided by the employees who keep the grounds, man the drawbridge, wait on the tables, work in the marina, and generally keep the whole operation ticking.  But deadness is okay, I guess, when a one-mile drive from here takes you to Route 1 where shopping malls, restaurants, bars, and fitness centers line the way.

My tone must convey a certain sense of disapproval, but one should not take it too seriously since I have decided to spend a second night here.  Tomorrow will be the last day of voyaging for a while since on Monday morning I must catch a flight back to Utah.  I have an arrangement for Kobuk: she will be stabled at Hideaway Marina in Pompano Beach.  That is only about twenty miles from here, just the other side of Fort Lauderdale.  We could just as easily run up to there today, but it is sufficiently peaceful and secure here that I have decided to stay put.  In other words, Williams Island may be nothing but a piece of engineered landscape but it is appealing enough to keep me around.  On the other hand, a long-term stay would quickly become a bore.

One of the main attractions of Williams Island Marina is the shower.  It is the first one I have used since I left Utah on October 25th.  When you’ve been on the road for a while, nothing feels quite so good as standing under a pressurized stream of hot water.  I took a shower last night, but then today I went back to do it again.  By the standards of the last few weeks, I really didn’t need another shower, but taking a long, very hot shower is one of the ways I go about getting my money’s worth whenever I stay in a place like this.

In the afternoon, as I am returning to Kobuk, I pass by a short, stocky man who is washing his boat.  He turns out to be a securities trader named Josh who has escaped from his New York City origins by doing all his trading online.  He moved down here a few years ago and now has an apartment in one of the nearby buildings.  There he does his trading online, and then when he is done for the day he comes down here to spend time on his boat.  He evidently is well-set financially, and cannot be much over forty.  He comes over to take a look at Kobuk and generally gives his approval to what we are doing.  It is hard for me to imagine what it would be like to be in Josh’s situation—living in one of these apartments and spending a chunk of each day puttering around on Kobuk.  Somehow, the prospect has little appeal—although I certainly can visualize many life situations that would be much less satisfactory.    


Sunday, December 13, 2009

All the problems that cropped up trying to get Kobuk out of Key West have shaken my confidence in the reliability of the mechanical systems on board.  So now, as we set off for Pompano Beach there is this nagging concern that maybe something will fail.  My flight is tomorrow morning and my storage arrangement must be consummated before five this afternoon.  This really should be a simple matter, but what if something causes us to go dead in the water?  Nothing does, though.  All systems operate fine and we progress according to schedule.

The only thing of any consequence that happens between Williams Island and Pompano Beach is that we pass by Fort Lauderdale.  This is not a city that one thinks of as being particularly large or metropolitan, but there is no denying the grandiosity of its port facilities.  In this respect, it is not as stunning as, say, Norfolk, but even so its accommodations for large ships are much more extensive and elaborate than one would expect for such a small city.  Of course, the ships are not naval.  They are for the most part cruise ships that run out of here to various Caribbean destinations.

Also, the small boat traffic on the water is much greater than it was in Miami.  When passing by Miami I don’t think there were more than a handful of instances when I actually had to pay attention to what other boats were doing since so few were ever in our vicinity, but here in the ICW as it passes through Fort Lauderdale the navigational task of avoiding other boats is a more or less continuous process of anticipation, calculation, and avoidance.  Last February I spent a day in Fort Lauderdale, a layover between a bus trip from Key West and a flight to Utah.  The downtown was broad, clean streets with surprisingly little going on—and I was left with the impression that the city has little life.  But now on the ICW, my attitude is changing.

Hideaway Marine in Pompano Beach is an aptly named storage facility tucked off in a backwater canal that you would never discover without directions.  I was put onto it by Truck, a worker down at Kings Pointe Marina where Kobuk and I were stalled for so long.  Truck is a slightly pudgy dynamo who cannot stay still and seems to do more work that all the other Kings Pointe employees together.  This may be misleading since his level of activity seems to be driven more by his innate restlessness than any keen desire to get specific things done.  Nonetheless, he always appeared to be rushing around when most everybody else was sitting in the shade of the marina store’s porch.  In any event, Truck suggested I contact Hideaway since he used to work there and he thought it would have reasonable storage rates for Kobuk.  I did call and he was right: it is less expensive than any of the dozen or so other places that I called.   Hideaway is purely a storage and repair facility—it doesn’t have slips for transients or long term stays.  Kobuk and I arrive there early in the afternoon, and then the afternoon is consumed with laundry chores and boat cleaning.  Around 4:00 PM, we maneuver over to be pulled from the water and before closing time I am on my way to the nearest bus stop, backpack on my shoulder, headed for Fort Lauderdale and then its airport. 

Hideaway Marine, Pompano Beach:     26* 13.583'W  /  80* 06.226' W
Distance:                                                 23 miles
Total Distance:                                       8,854 miles

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