Thursday, December 30, 2010

Feeling Crabby?

Crab pot buoys are really kind of
pretty.  Some folks string 'em
on rope to decorate their porches.
Boaters hate 'em
We made another long haul yesterday, from Cedar Keys to Anclote Key, which is just off the coast from Tarpon Springs. We were out of sight of land--except for the tall stacks of a nuclear plant, which made a useful navigational landmark.  About the only other thing we saw all day were dolphins and crab-pot floats.

Other Loopers warned us: "In this stretch of water, watch out for crab pots!" To answer a question received off-blog, here's a short treatise on "everything you always wanted to know about crab pot floats" . . .  and why they strike fear in the hearts of boaters.

Commercial crab fishermen ("crabbers") use "pots" or traps--round or square mesh boxes. Crabs find their way in but they can't find their way out. (Click here for pictures of stone crab traps.) Best bait: a fish head or pig's feet. By law, these crab pots must be marked by crab pot buoys--little round styrofoam floats, smaller than a soccer ball. They come in a rainbow of solid colors and stylish stripes. Each buoy must display its "state-issued stone crab endorsement number." (Kind of like a trout fisherman has to wear his fishing license pinned to his vest, in case the warden comes around.)

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Where in the World is SlowBoat?

If you are wondering, "Where in the world is Carmen San Diego?" . . .  I mean, SlowBoat, well, we left Steinhatchee before dawn Tuesday morning:  air temperature 19 degrees,  boat decks and solar panels liberally coated with ice.  After 10 hours of hard driving under a clear but cold sky we finally dropped anchor last night outside of Cedar Keys, Florida (population 790).
First the "Grand Canyon of Florida,"
and now here we are at the "Niagara Falls of Florida"

As you'll recall, last week we made the most challenging traverse of the trip--82 miles across open water, far out of sight of land, from Carabelle to Steinhatchee.  But the fun wasn't over.  From Steinhatchee, we needed to make two more hops, more than 60 miles each, before we reached Tarpon Springs and rejoined the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway (and protected waters) at Tarpon Springs.  The trip from Steinhatchee to Cedar Key was the first hop. 

It had been great to take a break in Steinhatchee--to have a stable floor beneath our feet, take a bath, have reliable cell phone and internet, to sit indoors and be warm without wearing layers of clothes or fussing with fiddly flame-based heaters.  On Sunday, to stretch our legs, we packed a lunch and went birding at Steinhatchee Falls, one of only two waterfalls in Florida. (Click here to see video of these tiny falls actually falling).

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Sustainability Tastes Good with Melted Butter

I am not a pig. I am a "Hoover Hog"
Maybe you've heard this joke.  Guy drives by a farm and sees a three-legged pig, wearing a wooden leg. Guy asks the farmer, "What's up with that pig?"   Farmer says, "Last year, the house caught fire.  We passed out in the smoke.  Pig used his mouth to turn the doorknob. Dialed 9-1-1 with his snout. Then ran upstairs and dragged us out of our beds and out of the house." 

"That's remarkable," says the man. "And the pig got injured in the fire?"  "Nope," says the farmer. "A pig that smart, you don't eat him all at once."

I thought of this joke Friday, when we bought some locally caught stone crab claws at the Steinhatchee Fish Market.  

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Could Solar Power Run Santa's Sleigh?

Santa sells seafood by the seashore. Say it six times fast!
In a small town like Steinhatchee, nuthin's open on Christmas Day. I mean, nuthin'.  So we went foraging for provisions the day before, to tide us over.  Imagine our surprise to find THIS guy selling seafood at the Steinhatchie Fish House!

We had rented a car--which is to say we gratefully paid $20 bucks to borrow the aging Ford Explorer usually reserved for the resort housekeeper to make her rounds in-- so we could do a spot of sightseeing.  First stop: The Road to Nowhere.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Waiting Out the Weather

We're holed up in the tiny fishing town of Steinhatchee, Florida (population 738), waiting out the weather. Our intrepid little canal boat has more than proved she can take on big water . . . but though we're crazy, we're not stupid! When the forecast is for wind more than 15 knots or "Waves 2 to 4 feet" or more (10 feet this weekend!)  we stay in port.

There's MUCH to interest us in Steinhatchee.  Like oysters.  LOTS of oysters
A boater we talked to the other day said, "I spent a week in Steinhatchee once. Longest year of my life."  But we like small towns, where the guy who nods "hello" in a store will later stop when he sees you walking by the side of the road and offer you a ride, and where the local diner is decorated with so many lights, you'd swear you are INSIDE a Christmas tree.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010


The Steinhatchee River Welcoming Committee and Boat Review Board
We're docked on the Steinhatchee River, waiting for better weather before we continue our travels south. 

If you want to see the view--as we see it--check out the Steinhatchee River WebCam!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

On the Other Side

I am strong, I am invincible, I am ready to pilot my boat for 15 hours non-stop across the Gulf of Mexico!
We've spent the last few weeks plotting and planning how to cross Florida's "Big Bend"--the U-bend where the Panhandle meets Florida's West Coast. The Gulf IntraCoastal Waterway doesn't go around the bend; to get to the West Coast you HAVE to cross open water.

For a boat as slow as ours, it's quite a puzzle how to make the crossing. You have to factor in the hours of daylight available, the timing of the tides, predicted wave height and wind direction, and which harbors a creeping SlowBoat can reach before the weather changes. The Cap'n spent hours checking charts and seeking local knowledge. Finally, a plan: Early Tuesday we would leave Carabelle, Florida, and cross to Steinhatchie, a fishing town. Total distance about 75 miles. 

Monday, December 20, 2010

How Many Days Till She Runs Off the Boat, Screaming?

If you're wondering why the blog has been quiet the past few days, we've been holed up in Apalachicola monitoring events at home, where two of our nearest and dearest have had some health challenges.  It's hard to write hearty travelogues when you're worried sick. 

(If you'd like to see some photos from the past few days, check the latest Facebook album.)
Our pretty docksite in Apalachicola

Dear friends have cared lovingly for our son, and Dad is surrounded by family and doing better.  In the middle of all the worrying we nearly forgot that we were celebrating an anniversary: 27 years of wedded bliss. 

Twenty-seven years.  Plenty of psychologists have interviewed passels of old married fuddy-duddies, trying to worm out the secret answer to the question, "How do people manage to stay married?" 

Indeed, when we told folks we were planning this trip, it was remarkable how many woman (how VERY many women) said to me, "I could NEVER be on a boat with just my husband for that long."  At the beginning of our trip, a friend was taking bets:  "How many days on the boat till Cynthia runs ashore, screaming?"  Amazingly, no one has collected yet. 

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Eating Locally

"I didn't eat all of these oysters--but I could have!"
One goal, on this boat trip, has been "eating locally."  We visit farmer's markets, and we eat at restaurants that feature local ingredients, and we pore over grocery-store shelves to find local products such as meats, cheeses, honey, and flour.  

Right now we're in Apalachicola, Florida, where the most famous locally produced food item is oysters.  

One in ten oysters eaten in American restaurants comes from this little patch of protected waters. Ten percent of the residents are oyster fishermen.  Some streets are paved with oyster shells. The local radio station is "Oyster Radio." 

Of course you are wondering, has this area been affected by oil from the Deep Horizon spill?  

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Fine Finny Friends

It's been a thrill to see dolphins all around our boat.  CLICK HERE for  a slide show. (Sorry, this slide show no longer available.)

P.S. More new posts below

Baby, It's Cold Outside!

Cap also repaired the
dinghy's broken
We've been working our way along the underside of the Florida panhandle, following the network of canals, bays, and sounds that make up the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway.

The scenery says "Florida":  Palm trees and beaches with sand like white sugar and dolphins leaping from sparkling blue water.

The air temperature says "Upstate New York."  Just our luck to visit during a record cold snap.

Sunday night, we tied gratefully at the dock at Port St. Joe and on Monday, while the crew shopped for thermal underwear at the town's lone clothing store, the Cap'n visited three hardware stores, two dollar stores, three furniture stores and an auto parts store, looking for construction supplies to winterize the boat.

Rare Problem, Rare Opportunity

Because of this trip, I'm now paying rapt attention to news stories I might have skimmed in the past. Like the story today, in the New York Times: "U.S. Vulnerable to Rare Earth Shortages." China is the world's leading producer of rare earth minerals, and the nation is moving to limit exports.

Why should I care?

Because our electric motor--the one that lets Dragonfly run with the sun--uses several kinds of rare earth.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Boater Fashion Update

Guess what I'm wearing under
my rain suit!
Back in Mobile, Alabama, the crew of the Dragonfly were mistaken for homeless people.  At the time, we contemplated our oil-stained sweatshirts, our frayed, wrinkled shorts, and our broken-down belts (the ones with the extra holes inexpertly punched using a hammer and nail) and said, "So what?"

But lately, the weather forecast has included "gale force winds."  Overnight temperatures have been so cold, the marina turned off the water supply lines on the docks for fear of a damaging freeze-up.

When the going gets tough, the tough go shopping.  

We're in a small town, so the clothing store options are limited.   But Port St. Joe does have an "outdoor outfitters" store . . . a retail category which sometimes means, "Your options in Gore-tex-coated polar fleece are limitless," and sometimes means, "Get your bikinis and novelty T-shirts here."  

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Aids to Navigation

Our first foray into uncharted--oops I mean charted--waters
I remember vividly the fourth day of our trip. The chart showed that our route along the Erie Canal would temporarily take us away from the narrow, secure channel . . . out into the waters of Cross Lake.  Our first "open water" crossing! Was I nervous? Yes I was.

Of course Cross Lake is a tiny little pond. In retrospect, my terror seems ridiculous. But at the time, I assure you, it was genuine.

As the Erie Canal opened into Cross Lake (which is a good half mile across, but seemed bigger), I scanned anxiously with binoculars across the army-green water.  And there they were, right where they were supposed to be--buoys marking the way!

Friday, December 10, 2010

Flipping Out

If only I had battery-powered socks,
life would be perfect!
Fortified by a hot bath and good night's sleep in an actual bed, we put on every item of clothing we possessed and left Fort Walton Beach on Thursday morning (air temperature 35 degrees, wind 5 to 10 knots), aiming straight across Choctawhatchee Bay.

By taking turns at the helm for 20 minutes at a time, we made it through the day . . .  and approached our anchorage, just beyond the Choctawhatchee Bay Bridge, a little before dusk.  

The sun had finally warmed the air, and the pale blue water was flat calm. Just outside the channel, the water was very shallow, and we could see a large flock of birds--pelicans, gulls, and common loons--all foraging together. 

The Capn' turned off the engine for a moment, and in the stillness we could hear the loons making plaintive little hoots--gentle sounding, very different from their crazy summer laughter.

"Look at that!" Cap said.  "Something's going on UNDER the water."  He pointed to an area where ripples were spreading on the flat, blue-gray metallic surface of the bay.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Let Us Now Praise Hot Water

Cap'n gives the thumbs up to this "Blue Angel" jet.
Goes a trifle faster than our boat.
The last post left Dragonfly scurrying through the cold and the winds to Pensacola, Florida . . .  where we found a grateful haven at Palafox Pier, a downtown marina.

About two weeks ago, back on the Tenn-Tom, we'd shared an anchorage--and drinks and laughs--with sailboaters Jeannie and Ron . . . who keep their boat at Palafox and live near the marina. Like rescuing angels, they plucked us off of our cold boat and fed us dinner--Jeannie's homemade shrimp and grits.  (Watch out, Emeril, and beware, Paul Prudhomme, you gentlemen have serious competition.)

Next day Ron loaned us his truck for a visit to the National Naval Aviation Museum, which has sufficient awesomely cool planes to make the average 8-year-old boy pass out with pleasure.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010


And behind those dunes . . .  the open ocean!

Picture this:  You're skiiing in Vermont, knees bending rhythmically as you bounce up and down, over the moguls.  It's a sunny day, but the cold finds its way into the little gaps at your wrists and neck.  The wind rushes past your face, making your eyes water.  Inside your fleece gloves, your fingers are starting to sting, and your toes are numb inside your boots.

Now image this:  While you are skiiing, you lower virtual-reality goggles in front of your eyes. It's still cold and windy, but instead of white snow and ice-covered spruce trees, you see a white sand beach, backed by low dunes and fronted by ultramarine water. You see umbrellas in bright primary colors shading lounge chairs, rustic wooden piers where pelicans stretch and preen, a fringe of palm trees.

That's what it was like to cruise the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway yesterday.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Wasting Away . . . But Not Wasting Fuel

Wind turbine in paradise:  Just steps from our boat to this ecofriendly Margaritaville
When the bar band strikes up the Jimmy Buffet anthem "Margaritaville," do you know all the words and sing along?

Another Saturday night, and SlowBoat was docked literally steps from the actual Margaritaville: Lulu's. This funky restaurant is owned and operated by Jimmy Buffet's sister, Lucy. We're told that 10 years ago this place was a dive; these days it's an engineered tropical paradise, serving cheeseburgers to as many as 4,000 guests a day in summer.

I wandered around Sunday morning, checking out the palm trees, the candy-colored lawn chairs, the thatched-roof tiki bar, the pretend-beach with its gleaming white sand . . . and the wind turbine.  Huh?

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Well Begun is Half Done

Dog River Marina on Mobile Bay.  Ho Ho Ho, transient slips for rent!
You know how it is: Thanksgiving rolls around, and next thing you know, Christmas decorations are everywhere.

We left Dragonfly tucked up in a side channel on the west of Mobile Bay last week while we flew home to snowy Upstate New York, to spend Thanksgiving with the Cap'n's family.

How amazing to travel 600 mph in a plane.  And . . . how quickly we burned through the "carbon footprint" savings we'd accumulated over the past 6 months by running with the sun.

After a wonderful week with family and friends, we are now back on the boat. And as of today, our SlowBoat is half-way through her grand adventure. She has travelled 3,000 miles in 6 months, with 3,000 more miles to go in the next six months.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Where Do Canal Boats Go in Winter?

Little canal boats all in a row . . .  shrink-wrapped and ready for winter.  Photo courtesy of Doug Wilson
Right now, the Dragonfly is docked under the sun on the slightly salty waters of Mobile Bay. Today she got this postcard from her brothers and sisters, back home on the Erie Canal. Great to hear from you, guys!