Monday, January 31, 2011

Good to the Last Drop

Rub-a dub-dub, give the canopy a scrub!
Sunday was sunny, and warm. Carpe Scrub Brush. Time to tackle a chore too long postponed:  Washing and re-sealing the canvas canopy. 

Managed to unsnap the darn thing without breaking any snaps, falling off the railing, or getting spiders on my face (they hide under the edge of the canopy and jump out when you pop the snaps).  

Laid the canvas on the dock, hosed it down, and scrubbed away the mildew and the bird poop and the spots of lichen (yes, lichen).  Had to make an emergency trip to West Marine for enuf canvas sealant to finish the job.  But now:  Let it rain! Who cares?

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Orange Blossom Special

Making a new friend
at Cape Canveral
We've been in Florida two months now. Yet we'd not yet been to the beach. It was time.

We arrived in New Smyrna Beach, Florida, Friday noonish, and scored a rental car.  The bubbly rental car girl said, "One place you should visit is Cape Canaveral National Seashore. It's just like the desert in AFRICA!" 
Time machine: Us in 30 years
Well, not exactly. But it IS sunswept, and palm-studded, and sandy.  24 miles of white-sand beach.  24 miles of UNDEVELOPED beach. That's where we were headed

On the way we spotted red-winged blackbirds in a marsh, singing a rusty conk-a-ree!  In New York and Pennsylvania, you never hear that sound till late March, when spring is bustin' in.  


Don't you hate running out of bait? These guys deliver
Centre Daily Times reports President Obama will visit Penn State-University Park (our home base) this week to support PSU as an innovation hub for energy-efficient canal boats.
Oh wait!  It already is.

Actually, the Prez is meeting with folks on campus who are making BUILDINGS more energy efficient.  

And the target market for bait boats
Researchers from Penn State (along with Princeton, UPenn, Rutgers and some others) will use buildings at the Navy Yard in Philly kind of like "lab rats" . . .  to test different building designs and energy-saving technologies. They'll also use their projects to train workers in energy-efficiency construction techniques and retrofits.  Cool!

I'm not sure it represents an innovation in energy-efficiency, but the little bait-boat pictured above (which we spotted en route to New Smyrna Beach) surely represents innovation in marketing.  Now if only there were a boat that delivered hot barbecue shrimp (locally and sustainably fished, naturally) direct to your canal boat anchorage. That would be heav-en-lee!

P.S. Photos from our current location available HERE

Friday, January 28, 2011

A Local Girl Remembers Indian River Lagoon

Pelicans kept plunging into the empty slip next to us with a slap and a splash, loud as Olympic divers off the 30-meter platform.  They were going after mullet . . . which also happened to be the specialty of the day (with two sides:  hush puppies? turnip greens? or try the home-made pickled beets?)  at the downtown coffee shop where we ate lunch.  What shall I order? Hmmm. Millions of pelicans can't be wrong.  And indeed they weren't.

At dusk on Wednesday we went for a walk, steering for the lights glowing on a wooden pier below the bridge.  It was a little restaurant with a tiki bar, the walls covered with wooden plaques which, the bartender explained, honor locals who helped fund the reconstruction of the Titusville fishing pier (claim to fame: World's Longest Free Fishing Pier).

Target acquired! Dive!  Dive!
Looking for more info about the pier, which has been a Titusville institution for decades, I came across an essay that fascinated me.  It's the full text of a speech by local resident Laurilee Thompson (a former swordfish boat captain), delivered a few years back, at a conference on the ecology of Mosquito Lagoon, our next stop.  

This essay is well worth a read.  Laurilee talks about growing up on the waterfront in the 1960s, a kid with the freedom to go off and mess around in a boat, all by herself, for hours if not days at a time, on the Indian River lagoon.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Sputnik Moment

When we visited Manitowoc, Wisconsin this past August we noticed a downtown storefront decorated with space aliens and a sign for "Sputnikfest."

The remains of a Sputnik satellite crashed in downtown Manitowoc in September 1962. The town turned the anniversary of the event into a festival featuring--curiously--space aliens. Is it really no coincidence that President Obama visits Manitowoc today after talking about a "Sputnik moment" in his State of the Union speech yesterday? 

Please Do Not Pet the Manatees

What next? Do Not Offer Manatees a
Ride on Your Kneeboard?
High winds last night and driving rain this morning; we're glad we're lashed to the dock at the municipal marina in Titusville. The cement pillars supporting the docks are plastered with signs like the one at left.

"Do Not Pet Manatees."  Makes sense.  

"Do Not Feed Manatees."  Ditto.

"Do Not Give Water to Manatees."  Huh? This baffled me. I pictured some touron (cross between tourist and moron) lobbing plastic water bottles overboard.  Or extending a Big Gulp cup to a manatee who was tailwalking, porpoiselike, near the boat.  

Nawww.  Who would do THAT?

Cap enlightened me.  Manatees live both in freshwater rivers and in salty estuaries. It's not clear they absolutely require fresh water to drink, but they do like it--they're attracted to springs and drainage pipes.  Apparently folks have learned you can attract a manatee to your dock or to your boat by hooking up a garden hose and squirting water overboard. But like the sign says, Don't.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The Best Hardware Store in North America

This hardware store has absolutely everything!
When you're doing the Loop, one of the challenges is re-supply. When you run out, where do you get more?  Groceries are not such a big deal; with a little imagination, I can put together a tasty meal from the most basic convenience store ingredients. Hardware, especially boat hardware, is another issue.  

In the year (or two, or three) since most of the boating travel guides we're using were published, many marinas have closed down the on-site "ship's stores" they once operated--or at minimum, they've drastically reduced their inventory.  

West Marine, the Wal-Mart of the boat-supply industry, strategically erects ITS stores, not near docks and marinas so that people who are actually ON boats can get to them, but on Miracle Miles reachable only by car.  And of course the Miracle Mile, miles out of town, is also where you'll find big-box hardware stories like Lowes and Home Depot.

There's often a downtown 'business district' within walking distance of wherever we dock; unfortunately downtown hardware stores seem to be mostly a thing of the past.   BUT! Going for a stroll in Cocoa Village, we spotted the Mother Lode, the Real Deal, the Big Kahuna of Hardware:  S.F. Travis Hardware (motto: "Try Travis First!"), the oldest continually family-run business in Central Florida . . . and possibly the best hardware store in North America. 

Monday, January 24, 2011

Squash Your Trash the Solar-Powered Way

Lawsy me, solar panels on a trash can!
No grocery store downtown,
but good veggies on Saturday
Working our way north up Florida's east coast, we stopped Friday evening in the former town of Eau Gallie. (It's been merged with Melbourne, but Eau Gallie still has its own sense of place . . . and its own little downtown studded with more or less functioning art galleries).  

Part of the attraction for the stop was learning that the town had a Saturday farmer's market, year-round. (Even in Florida, many markets shut down in winter.)  "Good choice," said the guy in the burlap apron as I picked out an avocado.  "Those are from Naples."  

Not, "Those are from my farm," but, "those are from a town about 150 miles away" (though still in Florida).  Behind one stall was a litter of crates and cardboard boxes: lettuce from Lake Placid.  Blueberries from Gainesville.  

This was a market where vendors had picked up produce from a variety of places.  Fresher and more local than most big-box grocery store stuff, but not exactly "from farm to fork." 

On the  other hand, I'm always collecting examples of innovative public uses for solar power, and I found one at the Eau Gallie market: a sleek, shiny black "solar compactor." With a little research I learned, this is not such a novelty!  Many municipalities are turning to solar trash compactors to reduce the likelihood that public parks will have overflowing trash cans after a big weekend. 

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Small-Town Solutions Needed

Water towers are great mariner's landmarks.  The water tower in Cocoa Village (where we're now anchored)
 is painted to look like an American flag.
First, the answer to the ever-popular question, "Where ARE you?" From Stuart we've sloowwlly hopped our way north up the Florida coast, anchoring behind mangrove islands by night and admiring our dolphin escorts by day. We're now anchored off Cocoa Village, not far south of Cape Kennedy.

I promised to return to the subject of Pahokee, the farm town where we stayed at the southern tip of Lake Okeechobee. (A few favorite photos now viewable on the SlowBoatCruise Facebook page.)

We docked there for old-time's sake:  Our boat's been there before! Back when the Dragonfly was a rental boat named the Honeyoe, she used to ride south, in winter, on a truckbed, to Pahokee, where she was a rental boat on the Okeechobee Waterway.  Imagine her steely sigh of satisfaction last week as, for the first time, she arrived at the port under her OWN power.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Great Minds With But a Single Thought: Solar Boat!

Why name your boat
"Electric Fisherman"?
Going after electric eels?
From Manatee Pocket, our next stop was Fort Pierce, a town that's invested lots of money in a tastefully spruced-up downtown that, for all its colorful stucco buildings, felt like a ghost town. An exuberantly modern city hall, loads of public art, and . . .  no one to enjoy it, except the handful of homeless men basking on waterfront park benches.

Leaving the next morning, we spotted the boat at right. My first guess:  Homage to the 70s movie "Electric Horseman" (you remember, starring Robert Redford as a washed-up former rodeo star riding around in a light-bulb-studded suit that lit up like Liberace?) Second guess: Going after electric eels? Third guess: This guy invented some crazy electric-powered fishing rod. 

Then I wondered: Could  Electric Fisherman be an electric-powered boat, like ours?  No, said the guy on the dock who was hosing down the hull.  It's just that the boat used to belong to a guy who was an electrician.

There IS a guy in Florida who's famous for his electric boat. A fellow Looper, Allan Goode, told us about Rueben Trane, a Miami-based boat builder who designed the "Island Pilot DSe Hybrid" (that's cool-speak for "diesel-electric hybrid"). Trane is known for his luxury cruising boats, but he got the idea to go solar back when fuel prices went crazy in 2006.

Click this link to check the boat out.  The parent company, Island Pilot, uses the slogan "Let the Sun Set You Free!" to bill this luxurious trawler as "America's First Hybrid Yacht Using Solar - Diesel - Electric  Drive. (Clearly the marketing department had not heard of SlowBoat, which is also an innovative diesel-electric hybrid. And we're told that since Dragonfly is more than 40 feet long, used primarily for recreation, andeach berth has its own head, we also earn the luxury designation of "yacht!")

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Turning North

(A Guest Blog from Bill)

We motored out of Manatee Pocket this morning and, reading "mile 3924" on our chart plotter, turned north at St. Lucie Inlet, Florida.

North. We're no longer going away; in at least some symbolic sense, we're now going back. When you grow up around horses, you know that when they turn toward home, they always speed up. Unlike a horse, I unconsciously thumbed back on the throttle, justifying the slowing-down as a way to conserve our battery power. But that wasn't it.

When my colleague and friend, Liz Goehring, visited us in Tennesee a while back, she brought us a book that she treasures, North with the Spring, by Pulitzer Prize-winning nature writer Edwin Way Teale. Teale and his wife, Nellie, after losing their only son in battle during World War II, embarked on a long imagined trip--to follow spring on its journey north. 

Family Reunionz

The H.M.S. Turtle is a bit
more secure on the high seas than Dragonfly.
Notice the sealed bow (where we have canvas
and screens).  That keeps big waves OUT!
Sunday was another idyllic day on the Okeechobee Waterway, and I want to tell you more about it. 

But first, fast forward, because the past two days have been jam-packed with exciting family reunions (and one TV appearance).  

(Meanwhile if you can't wait to know more about the area around Okeechobee, check out the photos HERE.)

The Waterway connects Fort Myers to Florida's east coast in the town of Stuart (about an hour's drive north of Palm Beach).  We knew we HAD to stop in Stuart, because of a special resident we just had to see.

Backing up just a sec: Whenever we dock the Cap'n says, "Whoa! Look at all the canal boats!" JOKE!  There are hardly any canal boats in North America.  In fact, we estimate there are about 25 of the quirky vessels.

But in Stuart, there IS a canal boat!  Indeed, a canal boat constructed by Mid-Lakes Navigation, the same company that built our own dear Dragonfly.  

We got in touch with the Captain of the H.M.S. Turtle, Dick Harding, and Sunday evening, having been delayed en route by a lock that--unexpectedly--closed down for several hours, we finally groped our way, after dark, past the crab pots and mooring balls to the dock. Dick was there to grab our lines.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Pahokee Pokey

Thursday we left Fort Myers, headed east along the Okeechobee Waterway. We planned to end the day at the town dock in LaBelle (town claim to fame: Swamp Cabbage Festival!)

Cruising the Okeechobee . . . It's FLAT out here!
But before we reached the crowded town dock, our radio crackled to life:  "Dragonfly! Hailing Dragonfly!  Look behind you!"

A man in a yellow sailor's slicker was hailing us from a dock in front of a neat, waterfront home. Addison Austin is a canal boat enthusiast and member of the American Canal Society, and ACS has been publishing excerpts from our blog in its newsletter.  So he knew we were headed his way, and he'd been watching for us.

End result: instead of crowding in with the boats squeezed stern-on to the town dock, we had a luxurious night on Mr. Austin's private dock. Over drinks 'n snacks with Addison and Mary Jane, we paged through the album documenting their own Great Loop adventure:  Two adults,  three dogs, four months, six major repairs . . .  in a 23-foot Sea Ray.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Canals "R" Us

Where we're docked now. There's quite a story as to how we
ended up here.  Check the NEXT blog installment for details!
Boy, can that man wield a wrench!  The Cap'n finished our engine repairs on Wednesday. Today (Thursday) we said goodbye to Fort Myers and started cruising (gingerly) up the Caloosahatchee River . . . which is part of the Okeechobee Waterway.  Which means, canals and locks.

Which is good, because after all, Canals "R" Us.  We're riding in a boat called a "LockMaster."  (Say it like a Hollywood announcer voicing the trailer for a sci-fi epic: "LockMaster! Savior of the Universe!"

Dragonfly is capering a little, kicking up her heels, maybe because the re-mounted engine feels good, and maybe because she's in familiar waters. When we checked in at Fort Myers the marina guy hustled over to say, "I recognized your boat immediately!  A couple from New York used to bring boats like that here!" We assume he's referring to Peter and Libby Wiles of Mid-Lakes Navigation who (back when Dragonfly was called the Honeoye and part of their rental fleet) used to bring her here in the winter, so  Floridians could sample the joys of canalboating.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Yo-Ho, Yo-Ho, to the Engine Room We Go

Florida is the only state in the nation with no snow today.  Good thing, because SlowBoat is still in Fort Myers. And the Captain is still in the engine room.

One of today's projects--new stuffing for the stuffing box.
That keeps the prop from leaking water into the bilges
The issue is engine mounts--the four little devices that keep the diesel engine (a honkin' big heavy chunk of iron) firmly in place.   

Last week, Cap noticed the gears which form the interface between electric motor and prop shaft were out of alignment. 

He also noticed the prop shaft  leaking more water than usual. (It's normal for a little water to come in when the prop turns. But not a lot).  

Cap finally diagnosed the problem as a broken engine mount. Once a mount breaks, the big ol' engine shifts its position, which pulls the prop out of position, and, well, everything's connected!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

An Electrifying Moment in History

Fellow electric-boat owner:
Thomas Alva Edison
The SlowBoat "Visitors" page has been freshly updated; however one august visitor we failed to document photographically was the Mayor of Fort Myers himself, Randy Henderson, Jr.!  The mayor stopped by the boat Monday morning with his son Marcus. 

From the moment we stepped onto Fort Myers docks and noticed the multiple recycle bins (including one for batteries!), we knew this was our kind of eco-minded town. Mayor Henderson told us one current project is a downtown water feature that will reduce stormwater runoff.  City Hall is also about to get solar panels on the roof.

The mayor introduced us to Chris Pendelton, CEO of a fascinating local attraction, the Edison and Ford Winter Estates.  This museum-plus-historic homes-plus botanical gardens complex has a brand new solar installation that provides light for (fittingly enough) exhibit halls documenting Edison's invention of such modern essentials as electric power and electric lights.

One of America's most important inventors and innovators (he pretty much gave you your modern lifestyle!), Thomas Alva Edison ("The Wizard of Menlo Park")  took his family to Fort Myers in the winters to escape the cold weather in New Jersey.  Chris gave us the insider's tour of the amazingly preserved laboratory where, spurred by the threat of shortages in World War I, Edison worked to develop a domestic substitute for an essential foreign import (rubber).

Monday, January 10, 2011

Amphibious Assault and Seashell Expedition

We set out Saturday morning under sunny skies.  Our course led past Captiva Island, which,  (according to legend) was (like Useppa)  where pirates kept women prisoners (hence the name "Captiva").  This island is also famous for the quantities of seashells strewn on its beaches and  . . .  it's reachable only by boat.  We checked the charts, plotted a good anchorage,  dropped anchor, and dinghied ashore.

Come on, little dinghy!  You can make it!

Sunday, January 9, 2011

The Life of a Pirate Princess

When our friend Peter Wiles of Mid-Lakes Navigation (the company that built our boat) heard we we cruising down toward Fort Myers, he said, "You MUST stop at Useppa Island."
Welcome to Useppa!  Part of the charm is the
architecturalcohesiveness: white cottages with tin roofs.

Useppa is a tiny island close to better-known Sanibel and Captiva. It's loaded with history and charm.  We hadn't included Useppa on our itinerary because it's privately owned--you can't just randomly stop in. But a friend of Peter's, Ginny Amsler, kindly made it possible for us to dock.

What was it like? Excerpt from Captain's Letter Home:

Friday, January 7, 2011

Night With a Venetian

Whenever our guidebooks describe a tricky bit of navigation, they list the buoy  numbers and compass directions and visual landmarks and they describe the currents and the risk of shoaling . . . and then, they repeat this sage bit of advice:  "Seek local knowledge."

Which is why we're so diligent in following the model set down by canalboater Terry Darlington in his Narrowdog books:  Once you're docked or anchored for the evening, seek the local bar and chat up the local boaters.  (And which is why we were in stitches over the sign shown above, spotted near the channel not far from the Crow's Nest Marina in Venice.)

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Sunny Thoughts in Sarasota

We visited Sarasota Monday and found it highly hospitable to boaters.  You can anchor overnight, for free, in Sarasota Harbor, just a few dinghy strokes from downtown.  

I bet kids don't skip class when it's on a boat!
While cruising the harbor we spotted an unusual vessel, the S.S. Carefree Learner. Students in Sarasota County are pretty lucky!  Their curriculum includes frequent field trips on this barge-style boat (41 feet long, just like Dragonfly).

The boat was designed and built by the students and faculty of Sarasota High School in 1978 . . . of solid Douglas Fir . . . at no cost to taxpayers.  It's a floating classroom that gets kids out on the water and teaches them about ocean critters and conservation issues. The vessel continues to pay its own way, in part by offering educational trips to local nonprofits such as Audubon clubs.  

We got a kick out of watching the boat come in and discharge students carrying buckets full of marine specimens.  When OUR voyage is over, Cap'n hopes to turn our boat into a similar floating classroom, where kids can study freshwater systems.  

Monday, January 3, 2011

Taming the Wild Electric Motor

Desert islands are nice . . .
but the engine room is MY
native habitat
When your desert isle has no
dock, you need a dinghy

From Tierra Verde (South of Saint Petersburg) we continued south on the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway. 

Along the way we ventured "outside" briefly, in the "big waters" of the Gulf, to go take a walk on a deserted beach at Egmont Key.  Now usually, the Crew is the cautious half of the expedition. But this time it was the Crew's adventurous idea to make this outside run.

Despite the non-alarming weather forecast, the waves were, um, a pretty good size, so we used our diesel engine, which has a little more "oomph," rather than our electric motor for the trip to this island wildlife refuge.

The expedition is recorded in a Facebook photo album (to see it, click here.) At the end of the day, safely back on the Intracoastal, Dragonfly nearly ran aground on some shoals (useful boating tip: "Don't drive where the birds are wading!") but at last anchored safely off Longboat Key (just north of Sarasota).   As we made our second dinghy run of the day, to the appealing little beach bar on shore, an unusual watercraft hove into sight.  It was our dinghy's sophisticated city cousin, a sleek and elegant scull.

We said hello to the guy at the oars, who said gratifyingly nice things about our oft-maligned dinghy.  A fellow rowing enthusiast! And he was headed to the same bar!

Sunday, January 2, 2011

So Easy, Even a Child Can Do It

"Hi, Emily!"
A belated Happy New Year to you!  We're glad to have your company on this SlowBoatCruise.

Speaking of company, we were excited to have boat visitors Sunday--Kathy and David Reddy,  parents of the crew's WPSU colleague, Emily Reddy,  who live in the Tampa/St. Petersburg area.

We enjoyed a picture postcard sunset from Dragonfly's stern deck followed by fresh steamed shrimp at the Reddy's favorite little fish shack. 

If YOU'd like to be the next guests to visit Dragonfly, here are some places we'll be in the next few weeks: Sarasota, Venice, Sanibel and Captiva, and continuing south on the west coast, Fort Myers.

Then we head east and inland on the Okeechobee Canal, to such exotic locales as La Belle, Clewiston, Pahokee, and Indiantown and on to Port St. Lucie, on the east coast of Florida. (At that point we'll be in striking distance if you're in West Palm, Boca, or Lauderdale.)

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Leapin' Manatees!

We docked Thursday morning in Tarpon Springs, population 23,000--a significant number of whom are Greek-Americans.

Back at the turn of the 20th century, an entrepreneur recruited sponge divers from Greece to established a commercial "fishery" for sponges--sedentary ocean animals whose dried skeletons (before the invention of cellulose sponges) came in handy for mopping up spills.  (Fun sponge facts HERE).

We tied up at the Tarpon City Marina, ably assisted by the dockmaster, Ted, who looked like central casting's ideal of a Greek fisherman (though he was quick to tell us he's actually from Poland.)

For dinner on Thursday night we savored grilled octopus and retsina at a local restaurant. Friday morning we set the rowing frame into the dinghy and set out in search of the slow-moving marine mammals we consider a perfect mascot for our boat: manatees.