Outdoors in the Keys

What does everyone wish for when they travel or vacation? Good weather. We didn’t have good weather, we had great weather. First on the list – beach time! We packed a picnic lunch and headed to nearby Bahia Honda State Park.

Sparkling water to swim in.

Sand to wiggle toes in.

Al enjoyed watching boats in the distance.

I enjoyed a walk on the beach after a refreshing swim. No sea glass, no shells. ūüôĀ

A conch shell near the edge of the water. There was a still living tenant inside so the shell stayed right there.

Amanda’s father, Bill, joined the four of us for dinner at the Square Grouper, well known for its fresh seafood menu as well as its¬†environmentally friendly “green”¬†approach¬†(all paper products and straws are made from corn products.)

The Square Grouper. Not much to look at on the outside. And what is a “square grouper”??

The name, “Square Grouper” and it’s funky, slang meaning belies the excellent food and interior ambiance. ‚ÄúSquare grouper‚ÄĚ refers to the square bales of marijuana that drug smugglers would toss out of planes into the sea.¬†¬†the ocean current carried the bales to the Keys to be picked up, back in the 1970s and 1980s.

The full story from the bottom of the menu. I like the whimsy of it. It was one of the first times I felt like I was in the quirky wacky Florida Keys and not just an ordinary beach resort town. I say that as someone who has never even tried weed. Really.

Family dinner –
Bill, me, and Al
Our kids – Amanda and Tim

Three seafood dinners and one barbecue pork. All delicious. Square Grouper does an excellent job.

In spite of our full tummies, we went all in and chose a dessert. The five of us shared this banana cream puff topped with chocolate. Oh so good!

After a good night’s sleep, the next day was more outdoor time. Yeah!! Tim took the day off and we all headed over to Bill’s on the other side of Big Pine Key. The plan — use the 18-foot Boston Whaler to go snorkeling.The five of us with gear and lunches piled into the boat and out the canal to “bigger” waters between Big Pine and No Name Keys.

Smiling, happy faces anticipating a day on the water and in the water.
And my sweetheart in the bow.

The water was bigger, as in wider, but not very deep. The big water¬†farther out also looked very choppy to¬†Bill so he decided it wasn’t the best day for¬†snorkeling. ūüôĀ ¬†Oh well, so we turned around. The engine raced, but the boat suddenly slowed down, significantly. Uh oh. Did the prop hit the bottom?? The trip back was decidedly slower and more cautious.

Backing the boat in for a closer look at that prop. Is this a prop study group?

The Watson duo, Bill and his friend all studied that prop. No damage visible. Tim, our techie, quickly searched on his phone for answers. Conclusion – The prop had “spun.”

When the guys announced that the “prop was spun,” ¬†I thought that was an odd conclusion to make. Of course the prop spins ! It’s a prop and that’s what they do – SPIN! Right? ¬†Silly me. “Spun your prop” is actually a technical term, of sorts. Evidently the prop was older and¬†the stress of having 5 people in it was too much. A ¬†rubber sleeve that is pressed into the center of the prop was old and hard, got too hot and couldn’t grip the metal inside, so it “slipped.” When this happens you are lucky if you can even coax idle¬†speed out of it.

Change of plans – let’s all go kayaking. Bill led the way to show us a hidden place.

On our way from Bill’s house on the canal over to No Name Key.

Just for reference:
Bill’s house is the yellow dot.
Red dot is about as far as the whaler got before the “prop was spun.”
Back to the yellow dot.
Purple dot – The hidden entrance to a very cool kayak experience.

The entrance into the mangroves was very concealed. Without Bill’s guidance, we would never have found it. This hidden gem turned out to be my favorite Keys adventure.

We all follow Bill, single file, one after another into the mangroves. Literally.

The route is narrow with only an occasional wider section. That means you can’t turn around. It is so narrow that it is impossible to paddle most of the time. Propulsion is by arms, pulling on the mangrove roots. So glad I had a short kayak to maneuver.

Al’s long arms gave him an advantage in the arm propulsion method. I will confess that I occasionally considered the possibility of an alligator or a snake.

Of course there has to be a selfie here in the mangroves.

WooHoo! We popped out into an open area.

We kayaked around the baby and adolescent mangrove “islands” in this shallow body of water.


Amanda and me

Tim found a geocache, without the assistance of a GPS. Geocaching is an outdoor treasure hunting game using GPS-enabled devices. Participants navigate (on land or water) to a specific set of GPS coordinates and then attempt to find the geocache (container) hidden at that location. Tim wrote a note for the container.

Al created this graphic to show our possible route through the mangroves.

Guess that spun prop was a good thing. ūüėČ

Another sunset to end another day.

The Keys to Florida

That title should really read ‚Äúthe Florida Keys.‚ÄĚ Visiting the Keys is on my bucket list – time to check it off. Our timing was just right. Tim and Amanda are spending the months of December through March in the Florida Keys. They spent December in their 25-foot Airstream and then moved into a rental house on Big Pine Key for 3 months to experience non-moving land life for the first time in 5 years. Check out their latest adventures on Watson Wander.

The Florida Keys – a map that shows Upper, Middle and Lower Keys, and Key West. I didn’t even know they were designated that way.

To reach Tim and Amanda on Big Pine in the Lower Keys, we drove on the Overseas Highway, a 113-mile roadway carrying U.S. Route 1 through the Florida Keys. Large parts of it were built on the former Overseas Railroad, the Key West Extension of the Florida East Coast Railway. No map is necessary because this is the only road that takes you over the bridges and through the islands.

The water had an opaque appearance from days of churning due to windy weather.

Big Pine Key is the second island in the Lower Keys region.

Here on Big Pine we see this sign. We must be in the right place!

Tim and Amanda’s “home” for a few months, with their wheeled home snuggled next to it. I “borrowed” this pic from Amanda’s blog because it was better than anything I took.

It was so good to see Tim and Amanda again and have time to really visit with them. In a switch of roles, the son (Tim) has to work during the day while the Dad (Al) has time to play.

While the kids worked, we spent our first day in the Keys, visiting cruising friends that we had met through Anthony and Annette on Magnolia.  Ted and Sally are wintering on their boat Amici, in Marathon, just a 30 minute drive east of Big Pine Key.

Amici, snuggled in at the dock in Marathon.

Ted and Sally took us on a dinghy ride into Boot Key Harbor. We rode though the Marathon City Marina mooring field. Pretty impressive field. Mooring balls are assigned first come, first served, no reservations. You cannot request a mooring until you are in the mooring field area. Marathon is a very popular place for cruisers so there may not be a mooring available when you want (need) it. There is a waiting list, so boaters can wait in a nearby anchorage and hope they get the call.

There are 226 hurricane strength rated mooring balls.

The moorings are lined up in very straight rows.

We love dinghy rides!!

A turn into Sisters Creek, edged with mangroves.

Boats can anchor in a wide spot in Sister’s Creek with the stern tied off to the mangroves,

Exiting Sisters Creek brought us out to the ocean and Sombrero Beach.

Lunch at Burdines

What a nice afternoon – boats, water, lunch and FRIENDS.

The day was not over yet. Back on Big Pine, Tim and Amanda were ready for a sunset kayak trip. One of the best features of their little rental house is that it sits on a canal and their kayaks are ready to go at anytime.

Amanda and Tim’s orange kayaks. The red kayak is a two-person peddling kayak.

Now that’s a comfy looking seat on the canal. Wonder why no one is sitting there??

We kayaked through the canal and out to the waters between Big Pine and Big Torch Key.

Tim and Amanda tried out the two-person peddling kayak. I think they had a good laugh.

We kayaked around a little spit of an island made of mangroves.

A white ibis high in the mangroves, all alone.

A tiny mangrove digging its roots into the water. Could this be the start of a new island??? Grow little mangrove, grow!

And the sun set on a very good day.


Florida – West Coast to East Coast

I can’t believe I am still trying to write the blogs from our 3-week trip to Mexico and Florida! We have been home for almost one month. These next few blogs actually have boats and water in them.

When we left Mexico we had a long day of travel ahead of us, beginning with the ride to the Mexico City airport in a van. The van picked us up at Casa Garza at 6:30 am for our noon flight.

Even in the dark of early morning, you can see what a tight squeeze Garza Callejon is. The driver backed the van down he street right to the front door. That’s service! And some pretty darn impressive maneuvering.

Instead of flying straight home to Connecticut, we had extended¬†the trip to include Florida so that we could visit family and friends. Florida is on the way home from Mexico, isn’t it?

Two weeks, 5 stops, 1200 miles of roads. 1= Tampa   2= Spring Hill    3= Stuart  4= Big Pine Key   5= St. Petersburg

After a long layover in the Dallas/Fort Worth airport, we landed in Tampa at 10:30 pm and drove north to visit Al’s mother, Dot. Dot and Bill live in¬†The Residence at Timber Pines, a senior living community in Spring Hill. Our visit overlapped with Cheri’s visit, Al’s sister, so we had some nice family time together.

Enjoying “the pub” together at Timber Pines. ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬†Clockwise from top left¬†– Cheri and Dave; Bill and Dot, Al and me; ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† Al and Dave are sitting with Bill’s uncle, also Bill, who is almost 102 years old; ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬†Bill’s daughter, Sharon¬†¬†and her husband, Jack.

The Residence has a beautiful outdoor pool that I took full advantage of while we were visiting. I had to the pool all to myself except for this one moment when I decided to take a photo.

After a nice visit in Spring Hill, we hopped back into our rental car and drove four hours across the state to Stuart to visit Al’s brother, Bill and his wife, Barbara. The middle of Florida is flat and mostly country. Shooting photos from the window of a moving car is no easy task. I amused myself by trying anyway.

Spanish moss hanging from trees and horses out to pasture.

Orange groves line the highways along one stretch.

Neatly rolled bales of hay.

Views of the miles of pipeline along alternating sides of the highway.

In Stuart we saw the beautiful Christmas Palm. I remember how festive the berry bunches look. We first saw these palms in Hope Town in 2013.

As things sometimes happen in life, the timing of our visit in Stuart coincidentally overlapped with Colin’s. Colin? Colin who? We met Colin in Lake Tashmoo¬†back in September when we were cruising around the New England islands ¬†(Off to the Islands ‚Äď Lake Tashmoo & Vineyard Haven, MV). Colin had seen us anchor in Lake Tashmoo and was interested in a Europa (“sedan-style”) trawler like ours. He¬†asked to look at our Kindred Spirit and “talk trawlers.”¬† Al put him in touch with his brother Bill who found a trawler for Colin¬†in Florida. Fast forward to January – Colin was spending two weeks on his new¬†boat with his friend,¬†Lynn.¬†It was late afternoon when we reached Stuart and we eagerly¬†accepted Colin and Lynn’s ¬†invitation to¬†tour¬†Tortuga.

Tortuga, a 1984 Oceania 38 Europa design trawler, at Stuart Yacht Harbor.

Tortuga means “turtle” in Spanish, an apt name for a trawler since they move slowly (for a power boat.) That’s why former sailors like us are drawn to them. ¬†It was truly amazing how similar Tortuga‚Äôs layout is to Kindred Spirit’s layout.

Colin suggested a happy hour dinghy cruise in the narrow winding South Fork of the St. Lucie River, where his Tortuga was docked at Stuart Yacht Harbor.

We met Bill and Barbara for breakfast on Sunday morning. Our conversation included the weather which had been on the windy side for the past couple weeks, and especially so on that day. Bill suggested that although it was still windy, perhaps Colin would like to get Tortuga away from the dock for some trawler tutoring. One phone call and our day was all set – we were all going out on Tortuga!! Extra wind …… extra Watson. Two for one deal. ūüėČ

The Watson brothers discuss methods for pulling away from the dock in windy conditions.

Chartplotter lessons at the interior helm.

More discussions on the aft deck.

Colin and Lynn take the helm and Tortuga leaves the dock.

The test ride went from the lower blue dot in the South Fork of the St. Lucie River to the green dot at the entrance of the North Fork of the St. Lucie Rive, near the bridge. Although we always stopped in Stuart on our ICW-Bahamas trips, we stayed in Manatee Pocket, Port Salerno (yellow dot.)

A few of the sites along the way. Felt good to be out on a boat!!

The mooring field in Stuart. It’s a little choppy out here.

Bill and Lynn have anchoring lessons on the bow.

AL and Colin have simultaneous anchoring lessons on the flybridge.

Lynn and Colin, looking very at home on Tortuga. ūüôā

Boating has brought family and friends together. Nice day!!