Saturday, June 28, 2008

Journey to the edge of the world

click on any picture to enlarge to full screen

On Saturday, June 28, Bill, Kathy, Stephanie & Billy toured the Florida Keys. We started in Key Largo, with stops in Islamorada and Marathon, seeing many points in between on our 102 mile journey to Key West. Once there, we stood on the Southern-most point of the continental United States.

5 miles off shore we jumped off a perfectly good catamaran, into the warm waters of the Atlantic.

A few of the corals we encountered

Billy gives the all okay signal

Stephanie is all smiles off shore

Despite the poor camera quality, these plants were bright purple

Stephanie, in search of reef fish

Later, Stephanie shows where she really wants to go!

Welcome to Key West!

This bridge, near Marathon, was blown open by F16 missle fire during the movie True Lies.

Kathy takes a break on the Atlantic side of Key West

Kathy & Stephi pose where the Atlantic meets the Gulf waters.

Ernest Hemingway's 1933 fishing boat, Pilar, in Islamorada.

Billy was found taking a break inside this Mini Cooper......

Then he hallucinated he was fishing with Hemingway!

And he wanted to swim with the giant Tarpon.

This is our tribute to our sister ship, Paparina. If you have to ask, you wouldn't understand.

Standing at the Southernmost point of the continental U.S.

On Sunday, we celebrated Stephanie's sweet SIXTEEN!

Happy Birthday Steph. NICE FISH

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Kathy & Kids in the Keys

This picture was taken at the Key Largo Resort at Manatee Bay by me, last April.
We will post many pics from our upcoming weekend.

Kathy, Stephanie and Billy travelled across the penisula, over Alligator Alley, to Key Largo and joined me at resort where I have been spending the week while working in Homestead. Their trip was safe although they did witness a rear end collision right next to them on the Turnpike. After getting settled at the hotel, we walked the beach and spotted a very large stone crab in the ater. Pictures will be posted soon.

Tomorrow we plan on visiting John Pennecamp State Park, with a beach, marine mammal exibit, snorkeling, etc. Saturday we will all venture, together for the first time in any of our lives, to Key West. It is about 100 miles further down the Overseas Highway from Key Largo. There will be much to see along the way. I am looking forward to watching the sunset there.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Searching for Satellites

Home in Pt. Charlotte

75 degrees, showers, occasional thunderstorms

Southwest Florida is in the midst of the summer rain season and last night was a rare break in the action. The seas were forecast to be 1-2 foot, with the bay water smooth to lightly choppy. In coastal terms, this means perfect conditions for pleasure boating.

We had discussed the possibility of a boys night out for Billy and I, since their arrival, and this was to be the best opportunity for it. We launched (hour meter 340) at about 7:45 PM with plans to get far enough out to Charlotte Harbor to enjoy a Florida sunset on the water. Unfortunately as soon as we got to the open water I noticed we had lost satellite reception on the GPS unit. I had Billy take the helm, cruising at a light 5 knots, while I tried to manipulate the antenna cable.

The unit had power but was searching for satellites. I'd had GPS connections when we were leaving our canal system, so I knew it wasn't a critical failure. Nonetheless, this was going to put a serious distruption to our plans. I use the GPS unit, coupled with the South Florida Garmin chart chip, to navigate the shallow depths of Charlotte Harbor. The GPS shows our position, reflected as a triangle, overlayed on a map of the harbor with known depths (soundings). This allows me to see where we are and what the best course to travel is. We also have a fishfinder/depthfinder on board, but it only shows the depths directly below you not the floors around you.

The backup system for GPS navigation is paper charts and a compass. We had both on board but it was quickly getting dark so that option wasn't recommended. Regular readers of this blog know the challenges we face with the tidal waters. Going back home wasn't an option because the tide had risen too much to get back under the bridge near our home. We needed to find a safe place to anchor down and spend the night. By the time the tide came back down, it would be too dangerous to navigate the night without GPS.

Near the Charlotte County beach complex, there is a 50' catamaran sailor which moors and lives there. We dropped anchor not far from him and Billy readied the cabin for the night. I have to give him credit because he recognized a puzzle of our cushions and increased the size of the bed three fold. I had no idea it did that.

A few hours later the tide was going out and I noticed our depth had dropped to 3'. Low tide was still two hours away and we would surely be beached if we didn't move. Low tide was forecast at -0.2. I wasn't sure what the catamaran did, because it stays here permanently, but I wasn't going to stick around to find out. I called my friend Jeff, on his boat on Lake Pleasant, AZ. Jeff has decades of experience living near and navigating the Pacific. Truth be told, this was going to be my first overnight experience "on the hook" in any waters.

Jeff, as usual, had the answers. He told us we would need to find a way to get to about 10' of water. I pulled out my paper charts and plotted a course to the center of the Peace River, where it lets out into Charlotte Harbor. Once I set out, I would be able to divert my attention back to the charts, so I tried to memorize a course, using the lights of Punta Gorda to the south and the Highway 41 bridge to the east as points of reference. Using only my compass and eyes, we set out at about 3 knots. I have a hand held, 3 million candlepower, spotlight I used on occasion to check for obstructions or unlit vessels. About 1 hour later, we found our spot. I let out about 30' of anchor line to allow for current and tidal changes. Jeff had reminded me that the tide will rise again while I sleep and failure to have allow for that could result in my anchor being pulled off the floor and the boat drifting toward a possible disaster.

We relaxed in the ocean breeze and I noticed my sweat soaked tee shirt almost chilled me. I guess the pressure had made me perspire more than I realized. The evening's conversation will forever remain our secret, but a night like this doesn't come along very often. A boy of 12 is standing at life's door, ready to walk in. As a dad, it is a priceless honor to have the rare opportunity to guide him on his journey.

At 12:30 AM, Billy bed down for the night. There wasn't a lot of rocking in the boat, but the waves sloshing against the hull was very loud and distracting to me. It didn't bother Billy a bit, he was out in minutes. Maybe it was the waves knocking, maybe it was just the watchman's nerves but I couldn't sleep. I went topside and wet a line for a while, to no avail. Everytime I fail to catch fish, I think our friend from Pleasant, Ernie, is hiding somewhere nearby, laughing at me. He always busted my chops about not catching fish on the docks at Pleasant Harbor, AZ.

I gave up the lure for moon watching at about 2 AM. There had been a recent full moon and tonight's lunar visitor was still nearly full. The reflection on the water was soothing. Of course, I had forgotten the camera. The harbor was absent any boat traffic throughout the night and it felt like we were the only beings on the sea.

After continuing to mess about, at 4 AM, I managed to get the GPS antenna to see the satellites. Better late than never. I took about a 30 minute nap downstairs but the water noise was still highly distracting. It was like trying to nap in your garage, with someone banging on the garage door.

I was back up at 5:30 and the GPS was still fine. I readied a couple of rods for trolling and woke Billy up at 6. Sunrise was set for 6:35 and I wanted to share it with him. We were joined by a lone dolphin but only briefly. The only thing our fishing lines caught was each other. Oh well, they say you should change your line ever 6 months anyway. I was able to salvage my lures but lost over 600 feet of line. I pulled it all on board for disposal, like a responsible mariner.

The sunrise was all we hoped for, as we motored toward our house. Kathy met us at our dock and helped put Messing About back on the lift. After a quick cup of coffee, I spent an hour cleaning and flushing the boat and motor. After a relaxing shower I felt like I had worked the graveyard shift. I slept from 9 to 2.

Although simple and uneventful, this trip will forever be remembered by Billy and I.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Stephanie & Billy visit South Florida

On June 10th Stephanie and Billy touched down at Tampa International Airport and I met them at the gate. The look on Billy's face told the story of how happy we all were to be together. We made the drive across the Sunshine Skyway Bridge and the kids were amazed at the sights.

On Thursday Stephanie went to work with me and sat in my class while I presented First Aid/CPR/AED in Longboat Key. She was a great student and scored the highest on the written tests! She will now get her cards from the American Red Cross and have a nice item to add to her resume.

Saturday we went to the beach at Boca Grande and Gasparilla Island State Park. It was a beautiful day, with plenty of sunshine and a high of 88. The water was warm and clear and Kathy shot these pictures of the fun. Billy and I caught a few Whiting and later cleaned and ate them. Every one had a taste of the fresh catch.

We got home just in time before the evening thunderstorms arrived. We have had rain everyday this week. It's been great for the plants and grass. I haven't missed hand watering a bit!

Monday, June 9, 2008

The Thunder Rolls

The National Weather Service recorded 618 lightening strikes during this storm.
It proved to be a good test for our new NOAA weather radio, as we were alerted by a siren and live broadcast just before the real storm hit.

The bottom of this blog has three videos for you. Just click on the play button.

Click on any picture to enlarge to full screen.
In spite of the pending storm, our landscape shines. This photo features canna lillies blooming orange/yellow flowers, our crown of thorns is the bright red and one of Kathy's roses shows a pink bloom. In the background, left to right, is a pigmy date palm; a silver bismark palm and the trunk of a sable palm.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

On the road again

Hampton Inn, Palm Beach Gardens
80 degrees, isolated t'storms

My bride joined me for an east coast road trip. She was quite pleasantly surprised with the accomodations at the Hampton Inn. We will have breakfast at 6AM with my North Florida work counterpart, Ken, who has come to town to be in my class tomorrow. I will spend the entire month of June teaching at my branches throughout South Florida. Tomorrow I am teaching first aid/CPR in West Palm Beach. Friday I will teach a driver's class in Jupiter and another in Stuart.

After work Friday we will head north to spend the weekend with Kathy's brother, Jim, in DeBary. For you longtime readers of the blog, you may remember I spend New Years Eve up there. You can check the blog archives if you never read that chapter. I'll give you a was around December 31.

After Friday and Saturday in DeBary, we will head back toward home but stop off in Orlando to have lunch with Kathy's other brother, Gary. Kathy spent the late 70's living in Orlando and this will be a fun weekend with her seeing sights and roads from her past. Jim and Gary are both good guys, although completely different, and we have always been close with them both. We looking forward to seeing them both.

I started the week on the east coast, doing safety audits in Stuart. I found myself on Hutchinson Island and in Sailfish Point. For those of you in AZ, think of Paradise Valley, surrounded by water. Very cool. Sorry there's not more pictures of the homes, but I didn't want to get arrested or worse yet, in trouble by our customers.

Click on any picture to enlarge

This was shot from my GPS, showing my position on Hutchinson Island, in the Atlantic.

Sailfish point, a high end HOA development of custom homes near Stuart, FL

The beach on Hutchinson Island

This guy was using a fishing kayak. It was a cool setup.
He paddled way out in the ocean to begin fishing.
On my ride back to the Gulf Coast, I was running paralell to a nasty summer storm brewing over Lake Okeechobee. I managed to avoid it but it made for some cool pics while driving.
click on a picture for a full screen version

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Still Cardinals Fans

For the past few weeks the little guy has been visiting our birdbath, reminding us that even though we are thousands of miles away we remain Cardinals fans. This was shot through the lanai screen but if you click on it and he looks good in full screen mode.

The above picture of our yard was taken on May 1st. Below, June 1st.

The above was taken today on June 1st. It's coming right along.

Above, May 1st, below June 1st.

Above, June 1st.

The South Florida rainy season began last night with a mild rainshower. We hoped this system would turn into something today and save us some water on the plants but no such luck prevailed.

The 2008 Hurricane season began June 1. The first named storm arrived a day early, as Tropical Storm Arthur formed in the Caribbean Ocean, near the Mexican Yucatan peninsula and near Belize. 24 hours later he made landfall with lots of rain but nothing else.

Up next, somewhere someday soon, we await the formation of what will be Bertha.

Regular readers of our blog know that my brother Mike has a boat slipped at Shelter Island Marina, in San Diego, CA. Well he has decided to start his own blog to document his adventures on the Pacific Ocean. You can find his blog at