Sunshine Finally? and an Ill-Fated Sail

557Bright, cheerful sunshine greets us this Saturday morning. What a delight! The weatherman is predicting a beautiful warm day in the 70s. Finally, I can book that sunset sail for this afternoon at 4:30. But by the time I am done with the conference at 1 p.m., wisps of clouds have started to appear overhead. It is still sunny though. Maybe, those clouds don’t mean anything, I tell myself.

Our first stop of the afternoon is the beach at Curry Hannock State Park located between Key Largo and Big Pine Key. The sandy beach faces the Atlantic Ocean. We beachcomb along the shoreline enjoying the sunshine and the ocean breeze. This beach is also sprinkled with jellyfish who have become stranded here and a few Portuguese Men-Of-War who lie silent and unmoving among the sea weed.

554Curry Hannock State Park also protects a large area of mangrove swamp with a walking trail through it. We decide to get some actual exercise by hiking the trail. It takes us several attempts and a stop to ask before we can find its entrance. Then we disappear into what feels like a South American rain forest. The ground underneath is spongy and muddy but one does not sink into it. We finally realize that the under support to this land is coral and not the usual dirt we think of in Minnesota. A sign along the trail tells us that we are 5 feet above sea level – a “mountain” on these islands. The grove is intertwined with palm trees, mangrove trees, and Poisonwood trees, a species of tree that acts like poison ivy if touched. By the time we see the sign informing us about that kind of tree, I have touched numerous trees. I wonder when I will start to itch and turn into a pumpkin. Thankfully, neither one of us develops any rash or itching so we must have seen the sign in time. An hour of walking winds us around the 1.5 mile trail and back to our car.

We have about an hour yet before our boat ride so we drive to a beach close to the marina we are to sail out of to kill some time. The clouds overhead have increased to the point that the sun only gets a chance to peek out occasionally. I keep trying to convince myself that they are not rain clouds. It is not supposed to rain at all today. By the time 4:30 p.m. rolls around, the clouds have become dark and ominous to the west. This is not looking good. Captain Mike, a US citizen originally from Cuba, meets us at the dock beside his racing schooner.

“Do you think this is a good idea? Should we just forget it?” I ask.

He checks a couple of weather websites on his smartphone and shrugs, “I think the storm miss us but it up to you. How many days you here yet?”

“This is our last chance,” I say, “We leave tomorrow.”

“All right. Let’s go. Leave shoes in that box so they won’t get wet if it rains,” he instructs.

Barefooted we jump over the water gap by the dock and into the sailboat. We have no rain gear. We do both have light jackets and the camera bag. 564Captain Mike starts the engine and begins trolling out through the channel to the ocean. The wind is quiet but the sky continues to darken. I look up at the tall mast above us. I wonder how safe this is being out in a storm in a sailboat. Why did I think this was a good idea?

“Oh, there’s a lightning arrestor on the mast,” he comforts us.

In spite of his assurances that the storm will miss us, he throws open the side hatch and motions for us to place the camera bag and our jackets in it. There will be no taking pictures I guess. The first hour heading out goes smoothly in spite of the ever darkening skies. I am wondering if we are crazy and I am ready to head back but Captain Mike keeps put-putting along with the 9.9 HP motor. “There’s not enough wind to put up the sails,” he says.

Suddenly, he points out across the water. “It’s raining over there.” He reaches into his small hatch and pulls out a canvas. “You wrap up in it,” he instructs.

We have no more than gotten the canvas tucked around us than the heavens release a torrent. I am hoping it will only be a short burst of rain but the deluge goes on and on, showing no sign of letting up. We have taken up a position on the opposite side of the boat so that the wind is at our backs but that provides little refuge from the pouring on our heads from the overhead bucket. Trickles of water begin to creep down my back and into my underwear. My once warm dry space begins to shrink. I pull the canvas over my head the best that I can and snuggle up to my hubby for warmth. I am sure it is not that cold but the combination of the wind and the water soon leads to misery. Captain Mike begins to shake violently.567

“I am Cuban,” he declares. “I cannot stand the cold.” He stops for a few minutes and rummages through his supplies. He soon pulls out a dry canvas for us and a couple of towels to wrap himself in under his raincoat. The ride back seems to go on for ages while the water continues to drench us. Will this ever end? As we motor through the harbor towards our destination, hundreds of sailboats, houseboats, big cruisers, small, medium, and large ocean going vessels are anchored in their bays. Only we troll by huddled down in the cold wet rain. I am sure the people are wondering what is wrong with those idiots. I am only too happy to reach the slip. After that miserable ride, I am thinking that our host will give us a discount. I ask him how much we owe him and he rattles off the full fare amount. I am a little surprised but I guess if you are miserable taking idiotic guests for a sail, you would want your full fare.656

We are soaked to the skin and we leave tomorrow so now the question is, how am I going to get these clothes dry? They will not air dry in this humid air. I have a brilliant idea when we reach our hotel room. There hangs an iron and ironing board. I watch the steam rise off the clothes as I iron each piece two or three times. It works. Only the jeans are still moist in the morning.

Soggy Beach



Palm tree reflection

Our third day in Florida again greets us with dark, low hanging clouds. It is warm and muggy. The prediction is for showers and thunderstorms all day with temperatures in the 70s. Hubby went out and bought cheap rain ponchos while I was at my conference with the hopes that we can explore some outdoors in spite of the rain.

We eat a modest lunch of cold cut meat, lettuce, and cheese on flat bread while we try to decide what we can do in the rain. We decide to drive to Sombrero Beach in Marathon. I don’t think we will have too many people sunning themselves to worry about. The rain is intermittent and has mostly stopped by the time we stroll onto the beach. The beach is actually a very narrow strip of sand along the shore that, at this point in time, is mostly covered with green seaweed, garbage, and strange creatures who have been washed ashore. It looks deserted. It isn’t until later that we learn that the tide for the last couple of days has been record setting high resulting in the garbage strewn beach that we are seeing. No one really has an explanation for this except possibly the unusual presence this time of year of a hurricane in the mid-Atlantic.

The wind is howling off of the ocean and our rain ponchos flap like terrified creatures escaping the wind driven rain. Wind speeds of 30-40 miles per hour were predicted for today. I wonder if this must be a small taste of what it would be like in the early stages of a hurricane. As we walk along the beach, we watch the various sea creatures who have been washed ashore trying to survive. There are brown blobs of soft jellyfish just barely being covered by water and others who have succumbed for lack of water higher up on the beach. Small horseshoe crabs skitter away from us. Mixed among the clumps of seaweed are bright blue things that look like un-popped balloons. They are obviously dead but when stepped on, they also pop like a balloon. Later we spy a sign that identifies these creatures as Portuguese Men-Of-War and warns us that they are the most dangerous jelly fish in Florida. It is a good thing I had shoes on.390498

A deluge from the sky sends us back to our car and headed back to the resort. The rain is so heavy that we edge along through the spreading torrent of water on the road. Later, at the hotel, when I check my phone, I realize that we had been sent an emergency management text, “Tornado Warning – take shelter immediately.”  The warning was for the town of Marathon right while we were driving through it. We didn’t see any tornado but then we really couldn’t see much of anything.

384We retire to our hotel room to rest and relax until the evening when the sky crying stops. We spend our evening strolling around Hawks Cay. It is a beautiful place of palm trees, brightly colored flowers, and stately houses situated on the water. Along the dock are boats neatly lined up in their slips.

Thursday, January 14, 2016    Key West – Here We Come

423I wake up numerous times during the night. I squint at the clock to see what time it is. I am afraid that the alarm won’t go off and I will be late for the seminar. I always forget to bring a travel alarm along and the motel alarm clocks frustrate me to no end. I can never figure out how to set them. Each one seems to be different and in need of having an accompanying operator’s manual. The same could be said for my cell phone. I don’t know how many times I have set it for a certain time but no sound ever comes out of it at the designated time. Apparently, I am missing something in the setting that should be obvious. That just leaves my hubby’s cell phone. At 6:20 a.m., I tiptoe over to Hubby’s side of the bed and attempt to turn it off before it wakes him too. But the click, click of doing so causes him to stir anyway. We both might as well get up and begin the day.

The sky is cloudy and rain drips from the soggy darkness as we peek outside of our ocean view window. The temperature is in the mid-60s. The people here think it is cold but to us Minnesotans, it seems quite nice. I don’t know what I was thinking when I packed as I am hot with my long sleeve turtle necks and sweaters. I make a mental note that we are going to need to stop and buy some t-shirts if I am to avoid melting while we are here. However, in the conference hall, I am thankful for my winter clothes. Even with them, I am freezing.

372The first day of my conference ends at 1 p.m. and we are ready to go exploring. The clouds hang dark and heavy and the sky still cries its tears. It does not look like a good day to go to the beach or boating. We decide that our best choice is to take a road trip to Key West down US Hwy 1. Not that we have much choice. It is the only road through “the Keys” and a very busy one. The Gulf of Mexico lies to our right and the Atlantic Ocean to the left. This very small strip of land is a 120-mile conglomeration of small coral-based islands knit together by overseas bridges. Everyone’s house is built up on concrete stilts in preparation for the waves of water destined to flow over the land when the hurricane winds blow. Dotted with palm trees and tropical vegetation, it is a beautiful place. But the only available recreational activities seem to be water related. Everyone owns a house with a boat parked outback in the canal.


Electric poles in the ocean

One of our first stops is at the Sandal Shop which has been advertising on big signs “10 t-shirts for $10”. As you can guess, that is not quite the truth. With the exception of a few plain t-shirts for the advertised price, most of them are over $20 per shirt. I choose a pastel blue one with a design of the Keys on it. Excitedly, I hold another one up for my Hubby to see. It declares, “Mariner’s rule: The Captain is always right… I’m the Captain.”

“Well, you might as well buy it. It’s true,” he retorts. And so I do. Now I have a couple of t-shirts to wear while motoring around Florida.

273It takes us several hours to creep our way to Key West. The rain continues to fall unabated. Sometimes, it cascades in torrents that obscure our vision making it hard to drive. Sometimes, it just drips on the backs of the dedicated bike riders along the road. At least, it is warm. Our main desire is to tour the lighthouse in Key West but as we drive around the town, we give up that idea also. The only parking spots, if one can find any, require walking down the street to some guy in a booth to pay. We are really not interested in getting soaked even if it is warm. We content ourselves with driving past and waving at the big buoy that marks the most southernmost point in the United States. Mark that off our bucket list. It is too bad we don’t even have a picture to memorialize the event. It is amazing to think that just across the strip of water to the south is Cuba.

Travel Day – Trip to Florida 2016

187              With anticipation, we roll out of bed at 3:30 a.m. on this Wednesday, January 13. The goal is to leave the house by 4 a.m. The thermometer declares the temperature to be 9 degrees below zero on this fine Minnesota day. I think it is a great day to head for Florida. My hubby is the one having trouble getting ready in ½ an hour today and I am the one chomping at the bit to leave. As we are motoring down County Rd 2, I ask, “Did you take your pills this morning?” Soon, we are turning around and heading back to the house. I do not have any extra pills along. They are counted out to the exact number. I bite my tongue and soon we are on our way again. The airport is just opening as we park at 4:55 and I am the second in line to check our one bag. Before we know it, we are on the plane but because of the cold weather, de-icing takes 30 minutes.


Flying into the Sunrise

My breakfast is tomato juice. My hubby is behind me on this smaller plane in which he cannot even stand up straight. We fly towards a beautiful sun rise with streaks of blazing orange and yellow. By 8 a.m., we are on the ground in Chicago. We have a long walk to the next concourse with just enough time to grab some nuts to complete the tomato juice breakfast. My assigned seat is the middle of the three seats on this flight to Charlotte, NC. I take one look at the big man by the window and realize that I will not survive in the middle seat between him and my hubby as I am claustrophobic and one of my nightmares is being suffocated between two oversized people in these undersized seats.

“You need to sit in the middle seat,” I instruct my better half. This is not a great option for him either as his legs are too long but what is one to do.

By noon, we are rolling into Charlotte. We have just under an hour before boarding our next flight. We are making good time. Another long walk is required to reach our last departure gate. This time I decide to grab some sandwiches for us. There is no price on the chicken salad sandwich that I choose from the display freezer. That seems faster than waiting in line for handmade ones from behind the service counter. As I hand them to the checkout lady, she casually enlightens me, “These are really expensive. Are you sure you really want them?” I stare blankly at her. It takes me a second to comprehend what she is trying to communicate. It seems like a really strange thing to say after I have already waited 15 minutes to arrive at the checkout counter. I don’t have time to go back and start over looking for a cheaper choice so I guess I am buying $14 sandwiches. If it is important enough to inform the customer of this at the cash register, wouldn’t you think it would be important enough to mark the price on them in the cooler?

After enjoying our overpriced sandwiches, we are ready to board the last leg of our flight today to Miami. Again, I am assigned the middle seat. This time I luck out and my window partner is a slim petit young lady. Good – I can breathe. As the flight gets underway, she falls asleep. I notice that in her hands she holds a book entitled Serving God in Dangerous Places. I am intrigued by the book and by my seat partner. In my younger days, serving God in dangerous places would have fit right in with my adventurous spirit. I reach over and gently slide the book out of her limp hands and begin to read. This is a book I must buy. I finally return the book to her unsuspecting hands while she doses on. Later, we talk and I learn that she is on her way to the Dominican Republic to teach in a Christian school there. Before I know it, we are landing in Miami.044

There are only two more tasks to check off our list and then we will we on our way towards Duck Keys, FL. We need to pick up our luggage and then find our way to the rental car area. We flow along with the mass of humanity towards the luggage pickup zone. We walk and we walk and we walk. And we walk some more. I swear we must be half way across Miami by the time we finally reach the designated area. Finding the rental car agencies is a reverse of the long walk in the opposite direction. Our steps have begun to drag along the floor and the stumbles have increased. As we follow the signs to “Rental Cars,” we find ourselves at a dead end. There are doors on either side that open and close as other travelers get off and on a subway type transportation.

“Are we supposed to get on the train?” we ask each other. There are no directions posted to guide us.

“I don’t know,” is my frustrated response. “I have no idea where we are or what we are supposed to do.” Well, I guess we get on and go for an “El” ride to somewhere. As we step off when it stops, there is the sign pointing to the rental cars. Yippee!

“What we have reserved for you,” says the Budget rental agent “is a VW bug. Will that be big enough for you?” My hubby and I look at each other – “A VW bug???” How is my 6’ 4” husband going to fit in that? Noticing our hesitation, she continues, “We can upgrade you to a bigger car.”  But we instantly reject the upgrade. It seems the rental agencies are always trying to make more money by sneaking in upgrades and extras and we are always getting caught in these endeavors. We soon have secured our shiny black VW bug. With the seat pushed all the way back, my hubby’s ample frame fits nicely into it. There is no back seat left but we don’t need one.010

The roads leaving the airport remind us all too soon that we are in the east and out of our driving element. There is not much to do about that but hang onto the wheel and go. We have a four-hour drive to Hawks Cay Resort at Duck Keys which is our destination. It is dark and raining but warm when we arrive. As my hubby slides the seat ahead in our VW to retrieve his camera which he has lain on the floor, a strangled sound escapes his lips.

“What’s wrong,” I ask.

His distressed voice responds, “My camera lens is shattered. It must have gotten crushed by pushing the seat back. I’ve never had a problem with putting it on the floor before.”

“Oh, NO! What are we going to do? How are we going to take any pictures here?”

“I don’t know,” concedes my hubby, “I am hoping the inner lens is not damaged. If it’s not, I can maybe just change the outer lens. If the inner lens is shattered too, my expensive camera is useless.”

What a bummer of a way to end our day of travel. We are both depressed. But given an hour, my resourceful husband has been able to remove the damaged lens and replace it with a new one. The camera is as good as new and we are ready for our adventure in the Florida Keys.077