The Dry Turtles!

Melody and I have been wanting to visit the Dry Tortugas for years. This year, after getting our bottom job done and putting the unexpected jib expense behind us, we headed out Gordon Pass inlet. With Naples behind us and a light but steady northeast breeze, we pointed V toward the Tortugas.

We had a wonderful overnight sail, complete with plenty of dolphin sightings (which always excite Jet). When we passed into the northwest channel and Fort Jefferson grew on the horizon, any fatigue we had fell away. The water turned a bright Caribbean blue, and we were excited to finally see a new place we’d been wanting to go to for so long.

Tortuga is the Spanish word for turtle or tortoise. The Dry Tortugas is a national park 70 miles west of Key West. Seven small islands and some reefs make up the park. Yes, it takes a bit of effort to get there, but let me tell you – it’s worth it.

Garden Key is where Fort Jefferson, the largest masonry fort in the U.S. still stands. Built between 1846 and 1875, it was never actually finished. Settling issues cracked the fresh water cisterns and allowed them to be contaminated with salt water. Fort Jefferson was never fired upon, nor did it ever fire a shot.

There’s a great anchorage just off the fort but it can be tricky because:

  1. The anchorage can get pretty crowded
  2. It’s pretty deep (20-30 feet in some places), so you have to put out a lot of scope which can be hard to do in a crowded anchorage
  3. There is grass on the bottom in some spots which doesn’t make for good holding so you want to find the spots with sand

Once into the lee of the fort, we searched for a bit of water less than 30-feet to drop the hook and found a sweet little sandy spot in about 16 feet and watched our Mantus quickly sink through the clear blue water. Ahhh, now we can relax.

If you’ve been reading along for awhile, you know that we’ve battled with our dog Jet when it comes to trying to get him to use the bathroom on deck. He’s only peed on deck a handful of times over the past five years. We knew he really needed to go, since his last bathroom break had been about 24 hours prior and since we will be doing several overnight trips with him this year, we wanted to use the opportunity at anchor, with the boat not moving, to try to get him to pee on deck, hoping that it would “click” for him and future attempts would be more successful. The plan was to get him to pee, then launch the dinghy and take him for a proper walk and bathroom break shoreside.

Success! As he peed, we praised him and ran to get treats. Good boy! We did a quick rinse with the bucket, now let’s launch the dinghy. Oh, wait… he’s not done. Now he’s pooping on deck. Problem is, Jet’s not a “standing pooper” but instead a “walking pooper” and at that moment, he was walking – and pooping – all over the deck. Bow, side decks, cabin top, you name it, it got pooped on. “Ummm… good boy!” we said, mouths agape as we realized how much shit we now had to clean up. So much for relaxing. Watch what you wish for, I suppose!

The next morning, we went ashore to tour Fort Jefferson. The fort is busier than we expected, but I’d still recommend going. The ferry from Key West docks in the morning and unloads about a hundred eager passengers. Many snorkel on the beach to the southwest of the fort, some tour the fort itself, and others set up tents and camp overnight, something I had no idea you could do! The passengers (minus the few campers) leave on the afternoon ferry trip back and that’s when it gets nice and quiet again.

Fort Jefferson National Park in the Dry Tortugas

There are also a couple of sea planes that make a couple trips from Key West each day. I think we were a bit close to their take-off and landing strip but we had a great spot and there was no way I was pulling up the anchor. (If you haven’t already, watch our video at the top of this post to see just how close they get!)

One thing you might hear from others who have visited the Tortugas is that there are no bathroom facilities and you have to take all trash with you off the island and back to your boat, and that’s true to some extent. However, we found that if your trash was minimal and you asked one of the deckhands on the ferry, they’d usually be happy to let you throw it away in the trash cans that they carry back with them.

The restrooms on the ferry are also open to everyone while the boat is on the dock. Use it – they don’t mind as long as you’re courteous. You can even use the outdoor showers on the ferry designated for the snorkelers to wash the saltwater off. There are also outhouses on the beach at Fort Jefferson and while not glamorous, in a pinch… well, any place is better than no place. As far as the fort, it’s pretty awesome to explore and see it all.

Garden Key, Dry Tortugas anchorage

The mout that surrounds Fort Jefferson in the Dry Tortugas

Inside the fort at Fort Jefferson in the Dry Tortugas

For me, the Tortugas always represented the place where I could see the legendary goliath grouper. These fish are rumored to reach 800 pounds and I have always been fascinated with seeing one in the flesh.

Not to disappoint, on our first morning in the anchorage, I just happened to peek over the side and nearly crapped my pants. One of the big boys was directly under our boat.  I think he was hoping for a Dutch Shepherd snack. Scampering for the GoPro, I did my best to get some footage. It was incredible. These guys are huge and he/she isn’t even the big one!

Goliath Grouper in the Dry Tortugas

On our second morning, after we brought Jet ashore for his morning constitution, we headed back to the boat when I spied a Cabo Rico anchored close to the beach. I jokingly said to Mel, “Honey, that’s a Cabo 34. How funny would it be if it was Joe and Maribeth?” Joe and Maribeth are friends of ours from our yacht club in Nashville who’ve been cruising the western Caribbean for the last year, and we’ve been following their travels since they were doing the same trip we are now doing. The last we had heard from them was probably a month before when they were Isla Mujeres, Mexico and preparing to head back to the states, so we knew the chances were slim that it was them.

I altered course and as our dinghy got closer, Melody noticed the Harbor Island Yacht Club burgee off their port shroud and we began to smile that special smile you get when you know the universe is conspiring in your favor. La Peregrina was indeed swinging on her hook a mere 300 yards from Vacilando.

We pulled up to their boat and knocked, and let’s just say that they were completely shocked to see that it was us. After a cold Modelo (Thanks Joe!), we headed back to our boat to drop off Jet, then came back over to visit more with our friends.

They were a wealth of information for our upcoming trip. The following morning we toured the fort again with them, and that afternoon we watched with tears in our eyes as La Peregrina headed north for Fort Meyers. They were headed home after an amazing year “of living dangerously” as they put it. Our paths will cross again, of this I’m certain.

There is no wifi, so we couldn’t get weather reports on our phones. We couldn’t even pick up Key West on our VHF for weather and that’s weird because we can usually pick up within 100 miles. Other boats in the anchorage had difficulty getting NOAA weather on their VHF as well. We don’t have an SSB radio on board, so the only weather we could get was via our Delorme InReach. Each morning, the park rangers posted an updated seven day forecast which was a great help in corroborating what we found via our forecasts.

For the most part, the anchorage is exposed to everything except the north and northwest. It can be crowded and sometimes you can’t put out the full scope one should have out to be prepared for a blow. When the big blow came through on our second night, it took everyone in the anchorage by surprise. 40 knots of wind and rain that swings the boat around at 2 am will put the fear of God in you. If it doesn’t, you’re a fool.

I watched a Catamaran drag off into the darkness, and not a person stirred on deck. I had my engine running and my nav lights on along with one other boat. Where I was planning on motoring, I have no idea. It’s all reef. All told, our Mantus drug about ten feet when the wind veered from the ENE where previously it had been all day from the south. I guess she popped out and then promptly dug back in. Oh, how that warms my heart.

Dry Tortugas National Park is an amazing place that should be seen and appreciated. We love that it’s in its natural state. There are no signs warning of heights and dangerous areas. No railings or glaring yellow and black stripes alluding to danger. It’s unmolested and it should stay that way.

We’ll go back at some point, that’s for sure. We missed the loggerhead turtles and the lighthouse on Loggerhead Key. We also didn’t dive the wreck that’s close by but we did enjoy the fort and the people who take care of it. The park rangers are great. Very informative and a joy to speak with.

Anyway, the Tortugas were a fantastic way to decompress and wait for the right weather window to cross the stream into Cuba. We spent three glorious days drinking coffee, reading, snorkeling, and watching the world go by. Then on the fourth day, the winds were in our favor and it was time to go. Havana here we come!

And away we go-oooh no…

Bottom Job: Check!
Re-provisioned: Check!

And with that, our last hard time commitment was behind us. We are truly operating on no particular time frame. We are, for the first time in four years, Vacilando. As we left the lock and headed out in to Charlotte Harbor, we were excited for our first destination. Melody had been wanting to see the Dry Tortugas since we bought the boat four years ago. On that first maiden voyage out of Panama City, we were headed that way but Tropical Storm Beryl had other ideas and sent us into Tarpon Springs.  We never made the Tortugas. I’ve been wanting to see the goliath groupers rumored to be there ever since.

We sailed down Charlotte Harbor and pointed straight for the inlet at Boca Grande. With our Delorme tracker running, we got a surprise text from some friends from St. Pete. Geoff and Melody (another Melody!) aboard their awesome Ranger Tug texted, “Are you guys coming down Charlotte Harbor? We’re coming in the inlet! We see you dead ahead.” How freaking strange, right? The universe plays wonderful games with us all and now, as we were about to embark on our crazy journey, two wonderful friends were about to pass like ships in the night… er, mid-morning.

As Far Post (their boat) approached us, the wind began to pipe up, and Vacilando was cruising at hull speed. The two Mels were chatting on cell phones while Geoff and I did our best not to smash into each other. After some enthusiastic waving and hand gyrations, we took some photos of each others’ boats and bid our farewells. They were headed for Naples to see his folks. We were headed out to sea, but not before we decided to tuck a reef in the main.

Vacilando under sail! Happy crew!

We did our usual drill and Mel headed up into the now stiff breeze. Not wanting our aged jib to flog itself to death, I began to roll it in. The old girl never made it. The minimal flogging as I rolled it up caused our old Johnson to split wide open at the point where the sunbrella meets the Dacron. A nice, clean, ten foot slit opened up. Honey! Change in plans.

No longer were we headed out the inlet. We changed course, dropped the main and headed down the ICW (again) bound for a safe harbor. Wanna know the ironic part? About two months before we left, we had been cleaning, rearranging and stowing things aboard Vacilando and came upon our spare jib under the v-berth. It had been there since we bought the boat. A nice, hardly-used 135% in a crisp yellow bag. And I sold it. We’d never used it. Never even came close to using it. Our CAL 35 moves like she’s on rails. The last thing I ever found myself saying is, “We need more sail area.” Our 110 Johnson had always been perfectly acceptable. Well, perfect until she wasn’t. Needless to say, no spare jib. I know… I went against my main mantra, “Two is one and one is none.” When you forget the lesson, it will be retaught.

So there we were, motoring down the damn Gulf Coast ICW looking for a spot to stop for the night. Geoff and Melody on Far Post were well ahead and already in Sanibel. We’d never catch ‘em, nor did we wanna spend the money for a marina. We now had a sail to buy. Geoff told us about an anchorage off of St. James City. He said it wasn’t very protected, but it was close to a wacky little bar/restaurant that we just had to go see.

Anchor in St. James City we did. Not protected is an understatement. If the wind is West or SW, don’t stop there. It’s nerve wracking. It’s basically a large open bay that shallows quickly and is well adorned with crab pots. Active Captain has the scoop.

In spite of it all, the shadows were growing long and we needed to stop. We put out a ton of scope and launched the dink. To be honest, Melody and I wanted to simply shower on the boat, cook a hot meal and go to bed but… we had to go see the Waterfront Bar and Grill. Geoff and our friend John Doyle talked of this place so much it had almost become as legendary as Melville’s white whale.

The Waterfront Bar in St. James City

In the dink, Jet took his usual spot up front (picture the Mack Truck dog on the hood of a truck). Mel and I were getting splashed by the steep chop as we motored aimlessly trying to find the channel to the restaurant. I will say, when you run aground in the dinghy, you know you’re in shallow water.

The light was fading and with our jeans soaked we finally found the rickety old docks. The stares were priceless. Jet hopped off and took care of his evening constitution in the side lot. Mel and I gathered on the deck and choked down a couple cold beers and took it all in. I’m simply going to describe it as a… ahem, a very unique place. Apparently, the clams are to die for, but we didn’t stick around long enough to find out. With the day that didn’t go as planned, we just wanted to hightail it back to Vacilando.

It was a sleepless night, and the next morning, we weighed anchor and decided to head to Naples. Once there, we’d make some calls and search for a sail. After about an hour of motoring through the “Miserable Mile” (which is actually about five miles of very shallow water with lots of shoaling), we should be approaching the Sanibel Bridge. Funny thing – no bridge. Just damp, dense fog. Hmmm… looking at the charts, the 75-foot-high span should be less than a half-mile in front of us. Nothing. Nada. Suddenly we heard traffic and when we were about a quarter of a mile away, we finally saw it. Whew!

Believe it or not, there’s a huge bridge right in front of us

Then, a text from Geoff: “Fog! We’re offshore heading for Naples. Radar working. You may wanna sit tight.” Um, too late, buddy. Thanks for the intel. We did end up dropping an anchor just past the bridge, though, and waited until it burned off an hour or so later.

Around 3:30 (or 1530) that afternoon, we entered Gordon Pass at Naples. That is not a fun place. A 30 MPH speed limit will greet you when you come in the shallow cut. Those wonderful power boaters are so sweet and kind, too. Not a single one sped up behind us, grazed our beam and left us rocking and bouncing out of the channel. Not one. Cough. Cough. Middle finger.

We’ve been to Naples before, and let’s just say it’s not our cup of tea. The good thing about Naples, and I mean the singular good thing about Naples? The city dock mooring balls are just 10 dollars a night. There is a four-night maximum, but four nights is three nights too many to be in Naples. On this trip to Naples, there was another good thing. Our pals Geoff and Melody from St.Pete were on the dock. A couple of familiar faces help to soften the blow when things go astray.

After a night of rest, the search began. Sarasota. Annapolis. Fort Lauderdale. Miami. Phone calls. Emails and texts. One call I made was to my old friend Brad Storm, a rigger in Fort Lauderdale. He knows everyone and anyone in the sailing industry. If Brad couldn’t help me, I was f-ed.

The universe, however, works in funny ways, and we should have seen it coming when we bumped into Geoff and Melody. Brad said, “You’re in Naples? You wanna work? I took on a big job and I’m not sure how I’m gonna get it done. I could use the help.”

Let’s now recap: The sail blew out. We diverted to Naples. While in Naples for a day, I’m now planning to get to Fort Lauderdale. All the while, trying to locate a used sail and not spend two-thousand dollars in the process.

I found a sail in, of all places in St. Petersburg! We just came from there! You gotta be kidding me. But wait, it gets better. Remember our friends Geoff and Melody are on the dock. Melody needed to get back to St. Pete to deal with some unexpected issues with a client. She wants to leave in the morning. Geoff calls our mutual friend  John Doyle (previously mentioned) to see if he will drive their car down to Naples where, John will give the keys to Melody and do the return trip with Geoff aboard Far Post. That lets Melody get home quickly and doesn’t leave Geoff doing the trip back to St. Pete solo.

Well, John was such an awesome pal, he went by Masthead Sails, checked out the sail I’d found online and called me with a real-time assessment of the sail. Once he said it was a good deal, I pulled the trigger and he drove the darn thing down and hand delivered the sail along with Melody’s Audi. That afternoon, my Melody and I picked up the rental car, loaded up the Jet-pack and jetted across Alligator Alley, bound for Ft. Lauderdale.

I spent the week in Fort Lauderdale rigging a Little Harbor 75. The days were long but gratifying. Brad and his wife Ingrid are incredible friends who put me up in their home. We enjoyed cooking wonderful dinners, wine, beer, rum, and stories of their younger adventure.

My buddy Brad sailed a 27-foot Albin Vega around the world in the mid 80s. Oh… with no engine. It’s hard to get him to talk about those days because he is humble beyond measure, but… I know the secret. Ply him with alcohol, ask leading questions and don’t interrupt as he contemplates. Do that, and you just might get the story about the Polynesian Chief who tried to marry off his 54-year-old daughter on an unsuspecting young sailor. You’ll piss yourself when he gets to the part about jumping through a window and running off into the night.

Melody spent her days in Naples harassing pelicans and eating ice cream with Jet for his 10th birthday, and hanging with some new friends she made on s/v Ruckus. Personally, I bet she was hitting on some silver foxes at the Dock Bar. You know… looking for Mr. Goodbar? A Sugar Daddy that won’t send her up the mast to change a light bulb? She’ll deny it.

All in all, what seemed like a stressful, unplanned disaster turned into an opportunity to hang with some dear friends and make some new ones. Geoff’s parents insisted we join them for dinner and we were happy to oblige. His folks, along with his aunt and uncle were gracious and funny. His mother shared her Glen Livet 12 with me, happily proclaiming, “She finally had someone to drink scotch with!” Well Mrs. Proud, I’m happy to share a dram with you any time.

This is a crazy way to live, my friends. What you planned for changes. Now, you have to improvise. Shoot from the hip. When that happens, sparks fly, and if you’re lucky, you’ll leave shaking your head, saying to yourself, “Did that just happen?”

So long, Naples! Thanks for the work, Brad! Enough f-ing around, kids… Lets get go see those goliath grouper and the Dry Tortugas!

P.S. Wanna see what happens when Melody tries to get too close to the pelicans in Naples?

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A Clean Bottom is a Happy Bottom!

It’s a boat yard. A yard, full of boats. In particular, Charlotte Harbor Boat Storage up in the northwest corner of Charlotte Harbor on the west coast of Florida.

If you’re not familiar with CHBS and you’re on a boat anywhere near the west coast, you need to be. The reviews online tout it as a premiere do-it-yourself yard that is extremely reasonable. I will tell you after our experience there, it’s true. It’s family run, incredibly clean, and well appointed (for a boat yard). The “tenants” (for lack of a better word) were extremely nice from the moment we hit the dock. My only complaint about the place is getting to it is like getting into Fort Knox.

On the Friday afternoon we were scheduled to haul out, as we beat our way north, we had the notion that we’d just barely make our appointment with little time to spare. We rounded the northwest bend into the upper reaches of Charlotte Harbor and Melody and I both noticed the large, low bridge crossing that looked to mark the end of the line. One lonely green marker stood to port marking a shoal.

Mel said to me, “There has to be a channel over there, right?” In my mind I was thinking yes, but my real time vision was providing no clues.

“Sure honey. The charts show a small channel over there and I guess we’ll see it as we get abeam of it.” And… at last, we did.

That channel couldn’t have been more than twenty feet wide. We came into it on a rising tide and nervously saw just over five feet. We draw five feet.

I phoned the boat yard. I wanted to tell them my position and ask for any local knowledge about the channel and the hand-operated lock we’d heard about, which was yet to be seen. Lisa answered and was a bit blasé, simply saying, “nope” when I asked, “is there anything I need to know about this channel? Any preferred route? Side?” Her exact words were, “You draw five feet? You should be fine.”

That was about five seconds before we stuck fast into four feet of mud, 50 feet from the now visible, hand-operated cattle lock on our port side.

A sailboat with a young man on the bow and another man driving was coming through the lock so I hailed them on radio to tell them we were hard aground. There was little room for them to maneuver between us and the mangroves just outside the lock. The excited young man was bouncing around the deck like his feet were on fire.

After many failed attempts to raise them on the radio, I yelled, “Hey! You got a radio?!” The young man said, “Yes!” to which I replied, “Can you turn it on?” (I left off “dumbass!”) He yelled back, “It’s my first lock! I just bought the boat!” The dialogue went on for a scant few seconds until I asked, “Have you got a depth gauge on that new boat?” “Yep!” he said. I actually had to say, “Can you tell me what it says?” “Five feet!” He was about five yards off the mangroves and ten feet off my port side, and he was in five feet. Mel and I were in 4. How ironic.

We sat for a spell in a rising tide and managed to get off without further incident. The hand-operated lock was the next conundrum we had to transit. The rusty chain, no thicker than a cheap dog leash, hangs from the wall along with some small hemp ropes for gripping in an effort to steady the boat. With one hand, Mel tugged down on the chain. With the other she held the raspy, hemp rope and tried her best to keep the bow from swinging into the turbulence. I had the stern but laughing as we were, neither of us were quite successful. If you saw us, you’d have thought we, too, just bought the boat.

The whole event took about a half-hour and no, we didn’t close the lock behind us on the other side. We were kind of flustered by the whole convoluted scene. Some fishermen tossed us a look of consternation as I motored away. Sorry, boys. You close it. Put down your Budweiser ICE and pull the chain. We’re off to make our appointment on the lift.

“Hello, Lisa? We’re through the lock.” It was then she informed me that we still had an hour-and-a-half through the canal to the boat yard and that they closed at four o’clock. My G-Shock was reading three. Then she graciously said to just tie up at the outer dock and that she’d leave us a key to the gate along with any particular information we needed to get through the weekend. It would be Monday before we’d be hauled out. “Okay, thank you Lisa. One more thing. Is our tie up going to be a port or starboard tie?” Lisa said, “Port? That’s left… right?”

I have to say, the trip, once through the lock, was beautiful and unexpected. The Interceptor Canal that leads to the yard is gorgeous and full of life. I would make the trip again just to anchor in that spot for a weekend.

Towards the end of the canal, there is a red marker that will give you pause, as it seems to nudge you right up onto the bank. Thankfully Melody had seen a note on Active Captain that mentioned wanting to take that mark to port because it looked so out of place but take heed, friends, leave it to starboard when you’re coming in, and don’t think about the muddy bank and swamp grass lapping your hull to port. Once through, ’tis a lovely ride to the small dock and a batch of wonderful people who’ll extend their hospitality from the moment your feet hit the ground.

Dean was the first guy to take our spring line. He ended up coming to the boat later that week, sharing some wine and a few beers as well as his stories. He took me to Home Depot on more than one occasion. He took Mel to the market for a bit of provisioning, and on one lovely evening, he clued us into his favorite place for Chinese. Dean is an amazing guy and a talented writer. In the nine days we spent on jack stands, I grew to enjoy my encounters with him and reveled in his stories and storytelling.

V with new bottom paint Yard dog

Rick, Sue, and Boogaloo (their awesome dog) were in the yard aboard their CAL 35, which they brought around from San Diego! Amazingly kind folks who offered up their assistance as well, and gave us a letter to deliver by hand to a friend of theirs who owns a bar in Isla Mujeres when we get there. Rick told us the letter would be worth a couple of free beers.

We got a really cool surprise visit from a blog follower and yet another CAL 35 owner, Jim Marinelli. Originally from Maine, Jim and Judy (his lovely wife) relocated to Port Charlotte and brought along their CAL. They had us over for a wonderful evening of food, drinks and conversation about our venerable vessels. So there we were, in the back woods of Placida, Florida making those connections that make it incredibly difficult to leave a place. Melody and I were saying, “ We gotta get this boat done and get outta here or we’ll be stuck for another year!”

Amidst the sanding, painting and toting all our dirty dishes down the ladder in a bucket to wash with the hose, we also had a lovely surprise from our friends Martin and Angela aboard s/v Mystique! Knowing we were missing the Sunday Power Hour at Fish Tales in St. Pete, they packed up some mimosas and brought Power Hour to us! Thanks, guys. It was a much needed break. Living on the hard is incredibly difficult, especially with a 50-pound dog.

Easy like Sunday morning… (when Martin and Angela are around!)

Speaking of dog, the process of getting Jet up and down the ladder was tedious and stressful. He’s named Jet, but sadly, the mutt can’t fly. He’s a trusting soul and in the end, it all worked out well, but I think we’re both glad it over.

Not being able to use the sink or the head is a pain in the butt. Climbing the ladder ten or fifteen times a day will work the quads though. It’s all about the silver lining, right?

Anyway, friends… with a fresh bottom and a rested crew, Vacilando went back into the water and pulled away without delay. For the first time since we moved aboard almost five years before, we were truly Vacilando. The boat yard was our last hard time commitment, and now it was behind us, literally.

Finally, we were traveling with a destination, but neither Melody nor I cared much about when we’d arrive. The boat moved like she was on ice. She was smooth and gliding along as eager as we were. Jet laid on the port side lazarette, eyes closed, not a care in the world.

Vacilando got back through the cattle lock and out the claustrophobic channel on a hide tide. The only thing indication we’d ever been there was our trusty space heater. We left it on the floating dock. A memento to the climates we were hopefully leaving behind for awhile. Good luck, little heater. I hope you find a chilly cabin or backwater fisherman’s heart to warm.

Thank You St. Petersburg. Goodnight Now!

It was early September and I was so excited for the first game of the 2016 /2017 NFL season. My Philadelphia Eagles had made some bold moves over the summer and everything was looking up. Then… BAM! Christmas. KA-BLAM-O! New Years. Hello 2017. New England Patriots will face the… Falcons? What-the-what? Is this a joke?

Our anticipated January 20th departure came and went quickly as well, and… we were still on the dock. We’d prepared for so long, then got delayed by a strong front passing through the Tampa / St. Pete area. We’d said goodbye to friends and then proceeded to bump into them the entire weekend while we waited out the weather. I was getting anxious, sad, and second guessing leaving at all. So many great people that we were going to miss dearly. That’s one of the – dare I say – negatives of this lifestyle. Leaving the friends you make when you stay too long, and we made some really amazing friends. Frankly, it made me a little cuckoo if you wanna know the truth.

Harborage GangOur friends from the marina threw us an awesome surprise party at 3 Daughters, a local brewery.

Having just quit her job, Melody was also a bit nervous, but fired up none-the-less and provisioning like a mad-woman. Amazon’s stock must have risen a few points last week. Like Houdini, she made it all disappear into the many crevices and cubbies aboard our floating tiny house. Vacilando was ready to launch. So on Tuesday, January 24, we pulled off H-Dock and headed out into the glorious Tampa Bay.

Vacilando Leaving St. PeteLeaving the Harborage Marina in St. Pete skyway-bridge-tampaYou take the highway, I’ll take the Skyway

Our goal for the afternoon was to reach an anchorage in Snead Island and drop the hook. We were excited to relearn our whole process of being on the move. It was a smooth endeavor. That night was calm as a swimming pool in the cove and it felt so good to be on the hook. We celebrated the entire day with a sip of some lovely tequila from one of many bottles donated to us by our fabulous dock mates.

Tequila

Before turning in, Mel walked Jet to the bow of the boat (just to see what would happen) and uttered the words, “go pee.” Believe it or not, he did! He peed like a racehorse. The next morning we all loaded up in the dink and went ashore for a proper walk and potty break for Jet before shoving off. Old habits kicked in and Jet got in and out of the dinghy like an old pro.

With an appointment to haul the boat in Charlotte Harbor Boat Yard on Friday, January 24th, the plan was to sail offshore to Boca Grande, anchor just inside the inlet in Pelican Bay, a lovely anchorage just off Cayo Costa State Park, and then motor up the harbor to the channel and down to the yard. If you know sailing, you know that plans rarely go off… well… as planned. We ended up on the ICW for the entire 3-day trip down.

I will say, doing the Gulf Coast Intracoastal Waterway was very different than the Atlantic ICW. The shallow and narrow Gulf Coast ICW was challenging in a southerly blow, and parts of Sarasota Bay reminded me of the Alblemarle Sound. Short, square waves smashed us on the nose all day. It was a tedious slog as the wind was south the entire trip. That is until we headed north up Charlotte Harbor. Then it went north.

We grounded three times just getting out of Pelican Bay. That entrance is tricky, tricky, tricky. Three times! That’s almost as many times as we’ve been aground in the last six trips up and down the AICW. No worries. At least its before the bottom job.

In order to get to the boat yard, one has to go through a lock to get to the Interceptor Canal. A hand-operated lock. It’s a nail biter. We ran aground twenty yards away from the entrance. The South Gulf Cove Lock used to be for moving cattle through on small barges. It can’t be more than twenty feet wide and even then, I might be stretching it. We didn’t get any pictures on the way in because we were too busy holding the boat steady. Melody held a bowline with one hand and yanked a rusty old chain that was flimsy enough that it felt like it might break off in the other.

Once through the lock, the canal was very much like the Dismal Swamp. Narrow with a depth of about 6-7 feet. It took us about an hour and a half to reach the boat yard. Sadly, by then the boat yard was closed. No haul-out on Friday as we had hoped.

Jet in the InterceptorJet in the Interceptor Canal

So here we sit on Sunday. It’s raining, the laundry is done and we’re desperately trying to keep to ourselves and not meet anyone. Word around these parts is, “come in for a week and stay for a year.” Sorry folks. We did that already. We are hauling out, pressure washing, and painting. That’s it. This time… this plan is going to go according to plan. Is that redundant? Either way, Vacilando is happy in some fresh water. Melody is happy in her cozy pj’s. Jet… well, he’s Jet. He’s the king.

Me? I’m good…I’m going to spend some time scampering through the yard and gawk at some boats.

Happy New Year! I Quit…

happy-new-year-2017

I can’t believe it. The holidays are over and here I sit, January 1, noshing some Dove dark chocolate and almond squares, still warm with the buzz of an Eagles win over the Dallas Cowboys. Hollow as it may be, it’s a nice way to end the season and begin 2017.

Can you believe it? Two Thousand and Seventeen! Where in the hell did the last decade and a half go? Seems like only yesterday we were all freaking out about Y2K and now we’re staring down the barrel of 2020.

New Year’s Day is not as celebrated around here as it used to be. Today marks two years since we lost Mel’s dad, Jim. She’s currently in Little Rock, Arkansas with family. Her trip served as a rite of passage of sorts. The goal to celebrate his life rather than mourn his loss. I just got off the phone with her and I can hear that she’s ready to come home. I’m ready to have her home.

I’ll wait to take the Christmas lights down from the mast until she’s had another chance to enjoy them. It’s warm and cozy onboard V when the colored lights are glowing. Jet is curled up on his dog bed, feet twitching in pursuit of an imaginary bunny or squirrel. Boy, is his life gonna change in about three weeks.

Christmas lights

Actually, all three of our lives are about to change quite drastically. After almost five years living aboard and traveling the east coast, Chesapeake Bay, and Florida, we’re leaving. Yep, leaving the U.S.A. Let me back up. I’ll try to give you the Reader’s Digest version.

Last October, we landed in St. Pete for a planned stop. We needed to get some big ticket items for the boat, and we felt that spending a year in one place, without the stress of traveling, and while making some money would go a long way to making that happen.

Since that time, we’ve added a bunch of things to V in order to get her ready for our upcoming trip. In addition to our regular OCD maintenance, we got some necessary items that should make life a little easier on the hook and allow us to keep away from marinas.

265 watts of solar panels, which we mounted on a custom stainless rail system atop the bimini, have been keeping our modest power needs met without a single issue. Even during the short winter days. What a relief to unplug from the pedestal. No more worries about unsafe currents and surges. Of course, our SmartPlug alleviated most of those already but, no electric bill is a pretty snazzy benefit to boot!

solar panel setupNew solar panel setup

To supplement the solar, we picked up a Yamaha 2K genny. We upgraded the almost new Profurl, added an extra low stretch halyard to the mast, and some new Garhauer jib cars and traveler controls.

A new-to-us 2-stroke Yamaha 8HP motor will power our new Mercury inflatable. No more rowing a tippy hard bottom dinghy with Jet jutting from side to side, upsetting the “stability.” Let’s see, new memory foam v-berth topper, new fresh water pump, new screens for the hatches, and a Berkey water purifier. Are you feeling me here? It’s no wonder I have not written a post since our friend Mike from Boat Radio wrote a guest post in November. It’s been very busy around here!

In April, we published my second book, What’s Up Ditch, which is featured in the 2017 Waterway Guide. Thanks, Waterway peeps! In September, I completed my first fiction novel (more to come on that in another post). Melody (among the million other things she’s got going on) just finished the edit.

Speaking of Melody, this past Friday, she took the most major step of all. She quit her J.O.B! She was very nervous (understandably), but she did it. Now, she’ll be ramping up her Maggie and Milly nautical jewelry line and doing more freelance work. She’s also about to launch her first online course. Like I said, it’s been a bit crazy around here.

So… on January 20th, or there about, we are shoving off. I would love to be as far away as possible from a television, radio, and any internet connection as they inaugurate you-know-who, as our next Commander-in-Something. Actually, I can’t think of a more symbolic day to leave on the adventure we’ve been working on for the last four years.

Is the boat ready? Are we ready? Is Jet going to be miserable? Do we have enough money? What are we forgetting? These are all the things I’ve been asking myself in the dark when I’m pretending to sleep. Honestly, we’ve been sitting for a year. We’ve never sat in one place for more than four months. We’re rusty and that’s a problem. We’ll remedy that with a brief shakedown trip along the coast before crossing the stream into Cuba.

Our last order of business, once all the paper work is in order, is to get some bottom paint on the girl, and check her running gear and rudder. If we get no surprises, we’re headed for Havana. After that, Isla Mujeres and parts south. Our “perfect world scenario” places us in the Rio Dulce sometime before June. We’re not making plans much past our first and second destinations. We sailors know what happens when we make plans. There are many forms to file, copies to be made, and certificates yet to be secured.

Three weeks goes by fast. Hell, look how fast the last seventeen years went. I’m not sure what you guys have planned for the new year but it is my hope that you achieve whatever it is you dream about. It’s my hope that strength and a calm spirit accompany your trip through two-thousand-seventeen. Personally, I can’t believe how fast all of it has gone. I lost many of my musical heroes this past year and I’m truly sad about that. They shaped me. They kept me company on my night watches and I felt more secure because they were still here. I won’t dwell for too long on that.

But, we are guaranteed nothing. If you wake with a dream or a fire in your belly, don’t ignore it. You owe it to the universe to blast through the bullshit that scares you. You get one shot at this. I know two people who’d love a second shot and I refuse to let them… or their daughter down.

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From rum to radio: How a series of Bacardi ads ultimately inspired the hottest new podcast for boaters

From Rum to Radio: the story behind Boat Radio

This is a guest post by our friend and talented radio host, Mike McDowall. You’ve probably heard to him on his popular show, Boat Radio, a podcast where he interviews fellow boaters, asking them to share their wisdom and insights into this crazy thing called boat life, so we’re honored to have him share a little about himself and how Boat Radio was born here for you. Take it away, Mike!

Back in the late nineties there was a series of commercials for Bacardi rum on UK television. The ads featured a super-cool DJ called Ray, who presented a show for a fictional broadcaster called Reef Radio. Ray sat in a sunny room in an old factory building in what looked like it might be Havana or San Juan. He had a fan whirling on his desk, a pair of big old reel-to-reel tape players rolling behind his chair, stereo turntables close to hand and a vintage RCA microphone suspended in front of him. He was good looking, laid back, quick to smile, popular and possibly a little bit drunk or stoned. But mostly he was really cool. Like, sub-zero.

I really wanted to be Ray.

At the time the commercials were broadcast, I actually was a radio presenter and I did have huge reel-to-reel tape players rolling right next to me, but this was in rainy London rather than a fictional Caribbean island, and in anodyne soundproof studios rather than a shabby but beautiful old building. I didn’t play music – my shows were all news and current affairs – and I spoke into a cheap headset mic plus, I worked pretty terrible hours and travelled to the studios aboard Tube trains packed with people who looked downtrodden and spent.

I longed to live somewhere sunny; somewhere people were happier.

It took me a long time to get here – nearly two decades, in fact – but I now live on the beautiful island of Mallorca, where the smiles are bright, the colours are bold, the weather is wonderful and there’s a fiesta just about every weekend.

Port de Soller, MallorcaPort de Soller, Mallorca

My wife and I moved to Mallorca last year, in search of a better life for our daughter Molly, then three years old. Molly is now four and spends her days at the beach or in the mountains, surrounded by kids of many nationalities. She speaks three languages, swims like a fish and has a new baby sister called Martha. Life is good.

Mallorca is roughly halfway between Barcelona and Algiers. It is the largest of the Islas Baleares, an archipelago that includes Ibiza, Menorca, Formentera, Cabrera, Dragonera and many more much smaller islands. Although part of Spain, the language of these islands is Catalan, which is spoken by around four million people at the western end of the Mediterranean.

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A few years ago, when island life was still a dream, my wife asked me what I would do for a living if we eventually made our escape plan work. The answer was simple: I would continue making radio programmes. I started in radio in 1993, reading the news for a small network which covered three counties in southern England. I was paid £700 per month – roughly $1,250 in today’s money. Yes, you read that correctly. Such was the demand for jobs in the media, the owners of the station were able to exploit newcomers to a ridiculous degree. To add insult to injury, I had to set my alarm for 3:45am because my working day began at 5:00am. It was absolutely bloody awful. I stayed there for just over a year and then moved to LBC, London’s best-loved talk station. LBC collapsed around my ears shortly after I started working there. Since then I’ve spent most of my time working for various arms of the BBC and, despite being an inveterate slacker, I have worked on some of the best and best known news and current affairs shows on radio, both behind the mic and in front of it. I’ve made quite a lot of television shows too but TV doesn’t hold a candle to radio. I love it.

I have always loved boats too. Recently I stood for nearly half an hour on a pontoon in Palma de Mallorca, gazing at Shamrock V. She’s a J-Class, built in 1930 by Camper and Nicholsons for Sir Thomas Lipton’s fifth attempt to win the America’s Cup. She is like something from a fairytale; a vessel of almost ethereal beauty. I was mesmerised. But I’m not only drawn to the supermodels of the boating world, I love boats of all types and sizes, even car ferries and dredgers; battered old barges and tugs. That said, if I won the lottery, I would immediately order a Shelter Island Runabout and a Spirit 46 Classic. Actually, if it was the gargantuan Euromillions lottery, I’d order something flash from Wally too. Of course, then I’d need somewhere to keep all the boats – maybe a house with a private jetty or two and… well, you can see where all the money would go.

Boat Radio began as an idea for a weekly slot on an established local broadcaster here in Mallorca but it very quickly became clear that none of the radio stations were interested. The idea grew in scope and, in the end, because I could drum up no support from other media outlets, the only option was to start my own radio station.

That was the plan anyway. It didn’t quite work out like that.

On July 1st Boat Radio came to life as a continuous audio stream, accessed via a bespoke mobile app. But it quickly became clear that I could not maintain such a complex, fickle and voraciously hungry channel without a substantial staff. I sat in my garden, in the scorching heat of the Mallorcan summer, frantically editing and uploading radio shows. At the other end of the garden table sat James Finlayson – formerly of BBC World Service – sweating profusely, editing maniacally and, like me, wide-eyed with caffeine. There were simply not enough hours in the day.

In the end, the audience saved us. The listeners made it clear that they did not want a conventional, scheduled radio station. Instead they wanted a catalogue of podcasts. So, that’s what we have created. Right now, there are 155 shows to choose from. They’re made in Florida, Missouri, The Bahamas, the Arctic Circle, Annapolis, the United Kingdom, Australia and, of course, Mallorca, the boating capital of Europe.

A glimpse of the Boat Radio home pageA glimpse at the Boat Radio home page

Each week, The Life Aquatic focuses on a family, a couple or an individual who has quit the rat race, sold up and sailed off into the sunset. The Wheelhouse covers all manner of fascinating people and subjects, from Tom McClean and his giant steel sperm whale boat to the ingeniously simple Seabin Project. Michael John’s Tales of the Thames introduces us to the people, the places and the boats along London’s mighty artery. Medical Emergencies at Sea is essential listening for those contemplating ocean voyages – host Dr. John Ross has three decades of experience providing urgent care in remote locations and hostile environments. If you’re interested in how mankind got started on the water then you must download Brandon Huebner’s wonderful lecture series, The Maritime History Programme, which begins at the beginning in ancient Mesopotamia. Carolyn Shearlock’s brilliant programme, The Boat Galley, takes listeners step-by-step through the process of finding, buying, equipping, provisioning and, above all, understanding, a boat, and there are great suggestions for boat drinks in The Sundowner. Soon, John Herlig, whose blog, AveDelMar.com, is one of the most poetic out there, will begin telling us his story as he sets sail from Florida with no particular destination in mind. Sailing royalty, Lin Pardey, was in touch a few weeks ago and will shortly begin a series of programmes about her and husband Larry’s extraordinary life. And I mustn’t forget Captain Bob May’s No Wake Zone Boating Radio Show. The NWZBRS is the radio show about recreational boating. It comes to you every week from Missouri’s magnificent Lake of the Ozarks and features all manner of guests, tips, tricks, practical advice and boating banter. We have a few other new shows in the works too.

There’s no shortage of great stories in the boating world and most of them involve normal folk like you and me. Sure, Boat Radio talks to adventurers, explorers and iconoclasts but I think the best, the most inspirational, stories come from ordinary people who’ve done extraordinary things. Please take a look at our website, www.boatradio.tv. I’m sure you’ll find something that interests you.

Between coming up with the idea and getting Boat Radio on air, I conducted a series of test transmissions using a terrific interview featuring Chris and Melody, operators of this blog. Chris and Melody very generously allowed a fumbling fool to experiment on them for a project that might never have come to fruition. And here they are being generous again, allowing me to take over their wonderful website for the day. I am eternally grateful to them both. If you haven’t yet bought a copy of Chris’ terrific book, ‘What’s Up Ditch!’, then I urge you to do so right away. It’s a terrific read. Hopefully we’ll have some news on that new album before the year is out too. No pressure, Chris!

Mike McDowall, host of Boat RadioMike McDowall of Boat Radio

I never did become Ray from Reef Radio, not by a long chalk. But do you know what? I think I’m happier than Ray. I’ve got my sunny island paradise but with a wife and two amazing daughters to share it. It’s late in Mallorca – 3:00am – but the thunder would prevent me from sleeping anyway so I might as well be here, at my desk, watching lightning illuminate the hills and the churning Mediterranean Sea. I just spotted a vintage RCA 77 ribbon mic on eBay. It’s just shy of $2,500 though so it’ll have to be added to the lottery list.

P.S. In case anyone was wondering, Ray from Reef Radio was played by Jeff Kober, better known as Jacob Hale, Jr in Sons of Anarchy, among many other roles. The strapline of the commercials was: ‘serve chilled’.

To repower or not to repower

** This post is one of those that could get varying opinions. We’re eager to hear them all, and we’re giving away a $100 REI gift card to one lucky person who comments… you must leave a comment to have a chance to win, so be sure to read through to the end and comment for a chance to win!

So here’s a quick scenario that I’d like some input on. Our CAL is a 1984 model. She’s in fabulous shape and we work to keep her that way. We’ve updated the rigging, wiring, refrigeration, lighting, and many more systems to make sure, as best we can, she seaworthy, reliable and comfortable. We are almost ready to go cruising. The one thing we haven’t done is rebuild the engine.

Our Universal diesel 5432 is a work horse. She’s a four-cylinder, 32 hp chunk of heaven. She purrs like a kitten and we’ve never had a lick of trouble with the engine itself. So why the concern, you may ask? Well, because she’s thirty two years old and spending that much time in a harsh environment like the ocean takes its toll on any piece of gear. It’s only a matter of time before the elements win out.

universal diesel engine 5432Our trusty engine, “Eunice”

I know new crate motors from Yanmar and Beta Marine would be upwards of ten thousand dollars once you take into consideration the installation, wiring and modifications to the engine bay. I just wonder how much that cost would actually balloon to once you factor in removing the old engine, painting and reconditioning the engine bay. Then, there the “while we’re at it, we might as well do X, Y, and Z” costs.

We have friends who just bought a brand new tug, and I must say, when I saw their shiny, green Volvo Penta outdrive, I turned a little green with envy. All new hose clamps, spiffy wiring harnesses and no previous owner’s “creativity” to undo. I can seriously see myself getting gaga over something like that.

A friend had is 5432 rebuilt for around $5k. Now, I would love to have a sparkling new 30 hp Beta, but a rebuild seems the more reasonable option for us. And truthfully, we may not even need that (yet).

Our old girl takes 11 1/2 quarts of oil. We’ve had the lift pump rebuilt, new fresh water and raw water pumps installed, new injector lines, new 100 amp alternator, new heat exchanger, and a few other new parts since we’ve owned her. She’s shiny gold and gets praise from any mechanic that sees her, but I’m wondering if we’re living on borrowed time. Should we have Eunice pulled and reconditioned before there’s an issue, or should we just wait ’til she gives up the ghost? Like I said, she’s not given us any issues.

Photo Courtesy of Captain Ricko of S/V Tiki NotionPhoto courtesy of Captain Ricko of S/V Tiki Notion – look how nice that rebuild looks!

So, readers, friends, and fellow boat nuts, what say you? Would you rebuild your engine (knowing it would delay your cruising plans), or would you go cruising, and keep taking care of your existing engine (that’s given you little to no problems)?

Let me know your thoughts in the comments below, and on November 30th, we’ll draw a name at random to win a $100 REI Gift Card to spend as you please (and let you know what we decide)! You have to leave a comment for a chance to win, so no matter what your thoughts are, we want to hear them!

JORD wood watch: sailor fashion + exclusive GIVEAWAY

jord-womens-watch-cleat

Although I will never complain about being in a warm climate in fall/winter, I have to admit that if I weren’t on a sailboat in Florida, I’d be getting excited over the chance to dig out my fall clothes. Scarves, jeans, and boots were my favorite things to wear in my former life. In fact, fall fashion was the only thing that made the impending doom of cold weather a little more bearable.

Unfortunately for my wardrobe, we don’t have “fall” in South Florida. In fact, we only have three seasons. Hot, Hot as Balls, and Why Does It Rain Every Day? Oh wait… there’s an occasional 4th season called Hurricane (of which we’re just now coming out of, but that’ll be another post).

So since I don’t get to whip out a nice pair of boots or my favorite cashmere scarf to wear each year, I was totally stoked to receive my new favorite accessory in the mail this week… a new wood watch from JORD.

wood-watch-fashion

The thing that’s great about watches and jewelry is that they take up so little room on a sailboat. So while I may have a closet that’s only 2 feet wide, therefore a very limited wardrobe, I love knowing that I can dress up a t-shirt and denim shorts with jewelry and accessories like my new Frankie Zebrawood and Champagne watch.

I’ve always loved the look of big, chunky watches on a small female wrist. This one has a nice big face, while still looking feminine. (But don’t worry, guys — they have stunning men’s watches, too!)

Of course, if you read my post about my first JORD watch, you know how much I love my Zebrawood and Turquoise version (so does everyone else…I literally get compliments every time I wear it), but this one is a more neutral color, so it will match more of my outfits.

The watch arrived beautifully packaged in a wooden box (which is great for storing your watch, or keeping as a jewelry box), and wrapped around the signature JORD pillow. The presentation alone would make this a perfect gift-giving idea. It’s so well done that you wouldn’t even have to wrap it. Just stick a bow on the box and boom — just like that, you’re the gift recipient’s new favorite person.

Jord Wood Watch comes beautifully packaged and suitable for gift giving. Compass and travel journal not included

Ok, so there’s no doubt that it’s a beautiful watch, but how is the quality?

Well, my first watch from JORD has held up beautifully for the past year, even in the salty air. To be perfectly honest, I don’t keep it in the protective box like I should. It sits right on my jewelry shelf within easy reach, and there’s no sign of any corrosion or rust (although now that I think about it, I’ll probably start keeping it in the box when I’m not wearing it).

The “glass” face of the watch is actually a sapphire crystal, meaning it’s scratch resistant. The wood is surprisingly lightweight and looks and feels great when wearing. These watches are also splashproof, so while not completely water-resistant, you don’t have to worry if you get a splash of water on yours.

Oh, and that whole timekeeping part of it, well, let’s just say it’s Swiss, so it will probably be ticking long after we aren’t.

Not to mention their customer service is top notch. They really do care about their product and stand behind it. If you’re looking for a beautiful statement piece that is high quality, I highly recommend a JORD watch.

So now, here’s the fun part!

JORD and I have teamed up in an awesome GIVEAWAY. The winner gets $100 to spend on any watch, but even if you’re one of those unlucky people who never wins anything, everyone who enters automatically gets a $20 voucher towards the purchase of any watch. #winning

CLICK HERE TO ENTER THE GIVEAWAY

The contest ends September 30th, so enter now. Don’t want to wait that long? You can shop now:

5My new Frankie Zebrawood & Champagne watch
My Cora & Turquoise watch
Shop Men’s watches
Shop Women’s watches

*This post was sponsored by JORD Wood Watches, but the opinions are all my own, based on my experience with these two watches and the company.

Honey — Pack Your Things! Aka: “Olde’ Town for My Olde’ Man”

Hello, hello, hello! The “Dog Days of Summer” are officially upon us and this update is going to be more like an ESPN highlight reel than a blog post. That would be just too damn long!

So settle in with a glass of vino, cold beer, gin and tonic… whoa, whoa… you’re reading this at breakfast? Scratch the gin and tonic, heh.

June flew by, but not without incident. I happened to turn 50. Ouch, I hate saying that.

We didn’t celebrate too much because I was moping. Not mopping, moping. I was not happy about reaching the half-a-century mark, no… not one bit.

Melody insisted we do something to celebrate and dragged me to a local sushi joint, where we proceeded to eat our weight in raw fish. Afterwards, we took a stroll through downtown, in a desperate attempt to walk it all off. We held hands, strolled by the water… and burped.

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A couple weeks later, she surprised me, “Honey — don’t make any plans for next week.” She said she was taking me somewhere for my birthday (post-haste). I had no say in the matter. She didn’t tell me where and she wouldn’t let me pack. She just told me to be available that week.

On the morning of departure, my wife showed up in a rented red convertible. Nice!

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We grabbed our bags and our dog, and headed out to drop him off at his favorite doggy spa for a little rest and re-ruff-ation.

I thought, “Okay… this is awesome. Red convertible = Road Trip. I love road trips!” And, road trip we did, to Ft. Lauderdale, where we had an awesome gather with some dearly missed friends.

Early the next morning, however, she rousted me and off we went…to the airport. What?! Any thoughts I had about where we were headed were quickly obliterated. I was thoroughly confused.

After saying good-bye to the spiffy red convertible, we headed to the gate. Turns out, the little lady sprung a trip to Cartagena, Colombia on the old man. She had my passport and all our particulars in order. What a cool surprise.

The short two and a half hour flight was painless, as was the check-in process. We had talked about going to Cartagena on our honeymoon at one point but ended up going to NYC instead.

Now… here we were, less than a year later.

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I can’t really fit the whole trip into this blog post, that would be like watching slides of your friends wedding. Nah!

Suffice it to say, the old city was amazing. The sites were spectacular, the city squares full of life, and the food! I can truly say it was some of the best food I’ve ever eaten. Fresh, unique menus and gorgeous presentations. I hated to eat it. That was me, the guy snapping photos of his breakfast.

Our delicious breakfast. Our delicious breakfast.

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We stayed at the coolest Airbnb just off the Plaza de Bolivar. The place was big, bright and comfortable. Centrally located, inexpensive and… it had a bright, red hammock that spanned the living room. Every apartment needs a hammock. What a place.

The rooftop terrace at night was something to behold. The churches, glowing in their evening radiance, the street performers singing and dancing in their colorful costumes. It was surreal and totally beautiful.

airbnb cartegena hammock

cartagena-dancers

We discovered a fantastic Cuban bar with a pool smack-dab in the middle of the place. By the way, do not coax the house parrot off the second floor banister. He doesn’t swim very well. Okay… he doesn’t swim at all.

We ate amazing lamb in an Argentinian restaurant, and we strolled amongst the history in the Castillo de San Filipe. We spent four relaxing days, eating, talking, walking, and enjoying each other. I couldn’t have asked for a better birthday surprise.

And, I couldn’t have traveled with a cooler person. Thanks Babe!

This place was awesome!

castillo-de-san-filipe

We did, however, get conned in the small fishing village of La Boquilla. “Robbed at prawn point!” as we describe it. If your Colombian Spanish is not up to snuff, don’t venture into the smaller, more “local” areas. You could be in for a big time swindle. We found ourselves at a small hut on the beach.

La Boquilla, Cartegena ColombiaHow ironic — The Red Lobster

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We ordered one fish and one lobster, and we were told our meal would be 75,000 pesos total, which was high by local standards, but we agreed because it seemed like a cool place.

So we were shocked when our tray of food, enough for a party of five or six, showed up. When all was said and done, the proprietor tried to charge us 495,000 pesos (that’s $175) for a meal that was supposed to be 75,000.

This is what came out!

After several minutes of arguing, and waving our hands in the international language of “forget it buddy” (the G-Rated Version), we were allowed to leave after giving them 86,000 pesos.

Needless to say… we made it out ok. We hit our favorite pub, the Mona Lisa and had a few stiff drinks to dull the sting.

Mona Lisa Pub Cartegena ColombiaOur magician bartender at the Mona Lisa Pub

Now that we’re back in St. Pete, we are getting Vacilando ready to go for her January departure. New solar panels, new bimini, new outboard, new (actually used) Yamaha generator, and a few other knick-knacks to get the old girl into her prime sailing form, and away from her current “dock condo” persona.

Before we know it, it will be time for the sunshade canopy to come down. The paddleboard and bumpers will be stowed, the internet antenna will be dowsed. The dinghy will be lashed on deck, and come the new year, we’ll be headed south.

By the way, if any of you have a hypalon dinghy (hard bottom) for sale or a contact for one, let us know. We are actively looking for one.

There is so much fun stuff going on, right now it’s crazy!

We have some big news that we’re really proud of and we’ll let it out as soon as I get the “all clear!”

As always, we appreciate everyone for following along and leaving comments. If you haven’t hit the Facebook page, do so. If you haven’t checked out either of our books, what are you waiting for?! They’re cheap, cheap! And, full of tons of information that any boater can use.

Spread some love. The world can use it.  Take care friends!

Celebrating Our 4 Year Boat Anniversary

boat anniversary

I hope everyone enjoyed their Memorial Day weekend. Melody and I would like to extend our gratitude and thanks to all the servicemen and women around the globe. Thank you for your service.

We celebrated a small milestone, as this past Memorial Day weekend marked our four year boat anniversary. Yep, four years ago we hauled what was left of our belongings onto our new boat, and on Memorial Day, 2012 we sailed out of Panama City and into our new life. It was scary, exhilarating, and a bit nerve-wracking.

What was going to be a one year experiment has turned into four years, and six trips up and down the east coast of America, with some additional destinations we never imagined. And, we’re nowhere close to finished.

I talked a little about that time period in my first book, You Gotta Go To Know. What it was like to quit the job and jump into the unknown. We’ve made mistakes along the way, that’s for sure. But, we’ve also had many triumphs. We’ve collected some great photos, and notes on what to do and what not to do.

The cool thing about taking good notes along the way, is that it usually finds its way into a blog, where you guys can reap the benefits, and that makes us happy.

This time, those note made it in to an entire book. My new book, What’s Up Ditch! The Ins and Outs of Cruising the Atlantic ICW: America’s Secret Highway, came out quietly on April 1, and from the looks of the reviews on Amazon, readers are getting from it exactly what I’d hoped.

I know many of you guys are bluewater or (future bluewater) sailors, and may have no desire to cruise the ICW. We, too, love the open ocean. But… sometimes, you just end up having to wait out weather, or alter the plan due to schedules. For us, that meant doing the ICW several times.

And, since I am of the opinion that if you have the information, you should share it, I wrote a book detailing what we learned.

I will say this; while Ditch may be about the ICW, there is a ton of information about navigation, radio etiquette, rules of the road, and some funny stuff about boat toilets. Useful information for any boater.

We’ve actually put together a whole page called the Anchor Locker for just this purpose. The Anchor Locker contains several free resources in a printable format, that you can print, laminate, and keep on board for quick reference.

anchor lockerThese are just a few of the resources you’ll find…

There’s an opt-in form at the bottom of each blog post, and once you enter your email, you’ll get a password that lets you into the Anchor Locker, where you can print ’til your little heart desires.

We compiled lists and blocks of information that we wish we had when we first did our trips up and down the coast. I think you’ll find it useful whether on the ICW or on the high seas.

Peace.