Monthly Archives: December 2012

Nearly the new year and back to Pandora, soon!

Sorry to not be more communicative these days.  I have to say that I have had difficulty in coming up with ideas for posts while I am home.  When we are underway I find inspiration nearly every day when I see something that I just have to write about.  When I look out of the window here in Essex at the grey sky it’s harder.

Well, I am back with yet another titillating post .  It’s Friday morning and about ten days until we return to Pandora.  The weather here in Essex has certainly been different than what we should expect to enjoy in the Bahamas with a few inches of snow on Christmas day and overnight temperatures in the 20s.  Just for fun, and too torture myself, I checked the weather for Georgetown today and it’s  currently 75 verses the 25 here in Essex.   Hmm…  All’s not lost as it’s supposed to go up to 38 later today, an increase of OVER TEN DEGREES.  George Town will only go up by a mere five.  ” Stop whining.  Soon, Bob, you’ll be warm soon.”

Our “vacation” here in Essex has been great fun, setting aside the “cool” weather,  (yes, a big thing to set aside I realize) with a whirlwind of visits with family and friends.    Of particular note, yesterday we had our friends Chris and Pat over for lunch and had a great time.  Chris has been a great friend since high school and was the one that introduced me to sailing.  He also was the one that gave me the idea of going south as he did the same trip over ten years ago when he Pat and their then small children headed south for a year aboard.

It was fun to catch up and exchange experiences.  I have to say that I am still amazed that we are doing this and am very excited about heading back down to Pandora to begin the second half of “Bob and Brenda’s most excellent adventure”.

“Santa”, with a little help from my parents, brought me a really great waterproof case to hold my i-phone so that I can take videos and pictures underwater.  I, no make that Santa, spied a press release about it in one of the sailing magazines last month.  The case is made by a company “Watershot” and is the newest addition to their line of camera cases.  The case, which fits over my phone, is waterproof to 130′ (a depth that I don’t plan to test personally) which is certainly going to be plenty deep for my snorkeling exploits.  After years of sailing in Maine, being in water that is actually warm will be just so great.  I can’t wait.  There’s a certain symmetry to getting this from my parents as this blog is perhaps more about them “coming along” with us on this trip than anything else.

I also now have a copy of Chris Parker’s book on basic weather for the southeast US, Bahamas and Caribbean.   Chris is our weather router and a great resource for helping to keep us happy and safe.  We listen to Chris on the SSB radio when we are aboard and via a webcast here in Essex.   He has a very helpful website with many resources for clients.  His broadcasts begin at 06:oo every day except Sunday and run for about 3.5 hours with segments devoted to weather for different regions including the Caribbean, Bahamas, Gulf Stream and Atlantic.   Chris’s routine is to cover area weather for a particular region and then take calls from customers or what he calls “sponsoring vessels” so that he can give them a personalized forecast for their area and travel plans.   The book is an excellent companion piece designed to help his clients better understand what he is talking about it.    It’s written in a very conversational style so you can nearly hear Chris speaking while you read it.   As this is the first book I have ever read about weather, it’s a great primer.

Before I break I should include a video of a wreck of a landing craft that I dove on when I was in Nassau last May to help bring back The Abby.   

I tried to take a video myself when I was there but wasn’t able as the battery in my recorder wasn’t properly charged. Next time I will be sure to have my battery fully charged, for sure.

We will be in the Bahamas in about a month.  I am just sooo excited.  Checking again.  The temperature here in Essex?  It’s still 25 degrees.  Bahamas?  Warmer…



The ICW for the first time. It’s a great journey, that’s for sure.

For several years prior to our departing on Pandora to make the run to Florida and winter in the Bahamas, Brenda and I spoke to everyone that we could find that had done the run down the ICW to get their thoughts on the trip.  How long should we allow for the trip?  Should we make the run inside all the way?  What about shopping for food?  Laundry?  What does it cost?  What were their must stop places?   As y0u would expect, there were just about as many different answers as there were those with an opinion.

With all of our questions and often conflicting answers, what’s a cruiser to do?

For now, I’ll tackle the issue of leaving the dock.

The only really universal answer that we heard was something like, JUST DO IT!!!  Yes, the advice from everyone was to cast those lines off and go.   As I used to say to my boys when their rooms needed to be picked up “now’s a good time”.   As we have often heard, “you are never any younger or any healthier” which gets you back to the “now” part.

As I look around at all of the non-cruiser folks we have met, many with much bigger boats than Pandora, often mortgaged to the hilt, it’s easy to see how they will never be able to make the plunge.  One basic truth is that the more “stuff” you have the harder it is to leave.  When we moved from NJ to CT we tossed a ton of stuff that we had accumulated over the years.  Unfortunately, we still have tons left.   Oh Well.   Someone once said that you spend the first 50 years accumulating stuff and the next 50 trying to get rid of it.  In our case, the accumulating part seems to be a lot easier than the disposing part.  Why is that?  However, I am still cautiously optimistic as we are only early in the second half (I hope).

So, I’ll set aside the issue of stuff for now.  Many of the folks that we met along the way, perhaps most of those that cruise, have chucked the shore-side attachments and moved aboard full time. We met plenty who have been living aboard for a decade or longer.   Some were taking a year off to see the sights with the plan of heading back to shore after they spent their cruising kitty or had used up all of the good will from a patient employer that granted them a leave of absence.   However, the vast majority have retired, many at a fairly early age.  Perhaps the choice of boat and home verses boat alone is often a matter of economics. It’s painful to pay all those bills for the shore home when you are afloat.

Having the ability to maintain a home and boat can work although it’s much more complicated than just tossing all your stuff and casting off the lines.  For me and Brenda, we will be splitting our time between Pandora and our home in Essex CT.  Of course, for us, the $64 question is what the balance of time will be between our time afloat and on the hard.   As is so often the case, the guy (me) in this equation wants to spend more time aboard.  However, I have learned that there is truth to the saying, “when the Queen is happy, there is peace in the kingdom”.  So…we will have a more reasonable split of shore verses afloat.   Got it?  Of course, getting a good definition of “reasonable” will likely take some time.   Patience is a good thing.

One common theme that we also observed in the couples that had been cruising together for years is that, as a rule, they seem to get along very well.   It’s possible to spend a two week vacation with someone that you don’t get along with that well but it’s entirely different kettle of fish to spend many months in a small space together if your thoughts turn dark too often.

Thinking of the short time folks, I am sure that you have seen, rather heard, guys screaming above the wind, at their partner up on the bow, when they are anchoring.  Those are probably not going to be long term cruiser types.   It seems to be a badge of honor among the cruisers we have met to use hand gestures,usually subtle, but not always, and never (well mostly never) raise their voices.

Another basic truth in cruising is that your biggest enemy is your calendar.  The ability to wait a day can make a huge difference in how enjoyable a trip is.  Motoring into 20kts on the nose is a lot different than sailing on a broad reach in the same breeze.  Happily, wind direction changes on nearly a daily basis so a flexible calendar makes for happy cruising.  I have some cruising friends who almost never sail with wind ahead of the beam.  They just wait a few days till the wind clocks around.  Yes, that’s the true cruiser or at least the mark of someone who’s not in a hurry.

Before I break, I’ll touch on a few of our favorite spots along the way.  We loved the Dismal Swamp Canal.  Meeting the ever friendly lockmaster Robert was a particularly special treat.  He was clear that he wanted us to bring him back a Conch shell to add to his already prodigious collection.   Here’s a link to my post about our experience with Robert. The canal’s primeval look and remoteness was a special treat.  We highly recommend it.  And, don’t forget to stop at the visitor’s center near the southern end of the canal. We also loved seeing the landscape change as we headed south including the live oaks that graced every place that we went.  Perhaps some of the best examples that we saw early on were in Charleston where we spent a week.  There area  few key things that cruisers look for, beyond other cruisers to hang out with.  These include access to groceries, laundry and great spots to dine.  There are plenty of spots that fit these criteria but perhaps none that fit the bill like Charleston.   Beyond having a great grocery, there is plenty to say about Charleston, that’s for sure.   We were most impressed with the gardens and many of the details of the architecture, especially if you like doorways.

We loved so many places along the way it’s hard to say which cities were the best.   It was also an eye opener to see how much of the ICW is still fairly wild with it’s barren remoteness. Perhaps this was most typified by the abandoned rice fields near Myrtle Beach and the meandering channels heading through Georgia.  I’d also recommend a visit to Brookgreen Gardens, as we did, although you will need to rent a car to get there.

Georgia is much maligned for it’s shoaling but we had not trouble because we were able to time our trip to coincide with rising tides.  With a 9 1/2 foot tide, there is plenty of water at least half of the time.  I do not recommend trying Georgia when the tide is low in the middle of the day.  As annoying as the winding channel can be, the views are worth it with soft grasses in every direction.  While some said that we should avoid GA at all costs, others said it was great, perhaps their favorite part of the trip.  We loved it.

I have to say that a list of favorites could go on and on but perhaps it’s best to leave it at that for now.  If you have considered doing this trip, I’d say that “now’s a good time”.   Just go.

Besides, where else could you be treated to sunsets and sunrises that rival those you can see when aboard?   It’s hard to say what was our favorite part of the trip.  Perhaps it’s less about the individual places that we visited, and more about the journey itself and such a journey it has been.

So, what has been our favorite part so far?  It’s hard to believe but I expect that the best is yet to come.  Bahamas?  I’m thinking that’s gonna be pretty good.



Home for the holidays and Pandora on her own

On December 11th, three months to the day and 1,500 NM south since our departure from Essex CT in September, we left Pandora near Vero Beach Florida to return home for the holidays.  When we tied up Pandora to the dock I was complaining about the near 100% humidity, still hot air and no-seeums buzzing all around.  now, it’s Saturday and feeling plenty cold here in Essex, a far cry from the semi-steamy sub-tropical Florida that we left earlier this week.

Funny how quickly I have become “soft” as we have followed the warmer weather south.  Me, I am happy to stay away from cold weather for ever.  Alas, this snow-bird, will have to settle for some snow, now and then so I’ll just have to make the best of it here in New England. I guess that I can tough it out as I have for the last 56 winters.  It will be great fun as the next few weeks will be a whirlwind of visits and parties with family and friends.  That should keep the blood from clotting completely.

For those who visit this site with some frequency, you may notice that I am repeating some of the information that you might have seen recently.  That’s because the server that supports this site crashed earlier in the week resulting in the loss of some content, my last post, that I  had added since the last backup.

The server is maintained by our son Christopher in his office in the department of physics at Columbia in Manhattan.  Oh well, so much for fail-safe redundant backup servers scattered around the globe.  Having said that, the up-time on Chris’s server “Cheeto” (not sure where that name came from), has served him well.  It seems that the hard drive crapped out in a cloud of acrid smoke and that was that.

Oh well, down but not out as Christopher had what I guess is now “son of Cheeto” up and running on a new, probably filched, computer later the same day.

Well, enough excuses.  Here’s some more information from the last post I made since leaving Pandora earlier this week in Florida.

As we headed south from Vero Beach, it was very clear that we were passing through some decidedly higher income zip-codes.  It seemed that each home was larger than the last, with some looking more like resorts than single family homes.   These mansions (forget micro mansions here) clearly have the best views.  No views of trailer parks and split levels to bother your view.  No way, no how.   Their views?  Beautiful marshes to enjoy from their infinity pools.  “Buffy, can you fetch me another mohito?  No, I can’t get it myself as it would be just dreadful if I missed the green flash?”.A nice side benefit of being facing west is the great sunsets, a real plus of being on the water.  This view is worth paying for.

It would seem that being energy efficient and resource stingy isn’t in high on the list of priorities for these owners.   Imagine how much water it takes to keep these lawns looking “golf course green”.  Well, I would expect that it’s about the same amount as you’d need for a golf course.  How about picking up some carbon offsets?  Better yet, how about a baker’s dozen Prius to make them feel better?  Not happening.  Probably not a lot of sweating the point as they tool around in their hulking SUVs.  Better yet, make that a hybrid SUV.  That’s the ticket.  Much, much better to get 14 mpg.  Yes, that’s perfect.

Funny, after years of feeling like the massive stucco homes in Bergen County, where we lived for some 20 years, looked just so nasty.  The whole stucco thing seems to work in Florida.  Perhaps it’s the warm weather lulling me into a stupor   If so, it’s a trance that I can get used to.   Stucco?  Bring it on.  Christmas lights on palms.  Yes! Yes!  A New England Christmas?  Ok, but after the new year I want to high tail it back to where the water isn’t hard unless you drop into off of a bridge at terminal velocity.

Interestingly, the ICW is so close to the ocean and gulf sream here that you can see the cloud banks that run up center of the stream.  It seems that when strong winds blow over the warm water of the gulf stream that the moisture that is evaporated causes massive thunderheads to grow.  You can clearly see them from along this part of the ICW.  Pretty impressive.  Pandora’s home for the next few weeks isn’t grand at all as I am a cheap Yank at heart.   The yard, clearly a working facility, is fine place to park a boat but not a place that you’d want to visit for fun.  No pool and tennis courts here.Lots of boats, however, of all descriptions.   Loads of sailboats waiting for their owners to relaunch them and head off for adventure.I found myself wondering if these boats were about to be launched for a winter of sailing south or if they had been hauled out at the end of the season.  I expect that it’s more like the prior given the nasty hurricanes that rip through this area off and on through the summer.  I did see plenty of boats held tight to the ground with long woven straps over their decks anchored to huge concrete blocks off of the bow and stern, a sure sign of insurance company influence.

One more thing.  Remember when Brenda and I were in Charleston earlier this fall and spied the Volvo racer Maserati at the docks checking in with customs?  They had just arrived there from a trans Atlantic run in preparation for an attempt to break the record for the fastest run from New York to San Francisco. They are now in NYC waiting for the weather window to begin their potentially record run.  Not a bad neighborhood.Not a lot in common between Pandora and Maserati I guess.  Oh well, I can at least take comfort in knowing that a SAGA 43 is more like a Volvo ocean racer than an Island Packet.  This is an Island Packet.  Well, to me it looks different.  “Sure Bob, if it makes you happy.  Go ahead and cling to that”.   It does have a plumb bow…  Come on, you HAVE to see the similarity.    

At the SSCA gam in Melbourne and local color

As I sit down to write, it’s just before 06:00 on Friday morning and still dark.  Brenda’s alarm went off a few minutes ago and she is really struggling to wake up.  A painful process, complete with more than a little bit of moaning at the tragedy of it all.  So, why, on board a cruising boat, would two retired folks set an alarm, you ask?  Well, today is a big day.  We will be enjoying the Gam in Melbourne FL with our friends from SSCA, the Seven Seas Cruising Association.  I signed us up to help with check-ins and they want us to be there by 07:30.  These days that seems pretty early.  It wasn’t that long ago when I was at work by that time every morning.   My, how times have changed for the crew of Pandora.  I do have to wonder who will show up that early.  Well, we will be among the first to find out.

Brenda and “early” aren’t two things that are generally described in the same sentence as 06:00 is not easy for Brenda, that’s for sure.  I guess that I have used up a few of my “good will points” with a dark beginning for her day today.

The SSCA is a great group with some 8,000 members that are focused on helping cruisers get the most out of their boats and time aboard.   When you ask one of them when it’s the right time to shove off they chant in unison, “JUST GO!”.  While many members of the group live aboard, there are plenty like us that spend a good portion of their year afloat and yet have a land base too.

Several times a year the group has events like the one that we are attending for the next few days and I am looking forward to it.  There will be experts talking about  topics like weather, safety, cruising destinations and other areas related spending time aboard.

In particular, we will have an opportunity to hear from Christ Parker, the weather router that we use.  As weather, and by extension Chris, whom we have never met, is such a big part of our life on the water.  We are particularly excited about hearing what he has to say.  This event, over the next three days, should be a great time.

Speaking of being in Melbourne, I have enjoyed seeing the local sights as I do in each area that we visit.  In particular, the water clarity is much better here so that you can see about 6-8′, which is a lot better than anything we have seen to date on our trip south.  Of course, when we get to the Bahamas the water will be REALLY CLEAR, but for now every little improvement is good.

Around the town dock, thousands of mullet congregate because the pilings and dock structure give them some cover and shade to hide in.  The fish in the schools run from a few inches to around one foot long.   I got a kick out of seeing so many of them in such a small space.  In this part of the school, these are all about a foot long.  This photo doesn’t really show how many there were but trust me when I say that there were plenty. In Florida, it seems that where there are fish, there are dolphins.  Unfortunately, this is the best shot that I could get as they move along really quickly. It was fun to see them work as a group to “corral” fish into a tight space so that they could dash through the group and snap them up for dinner.   One of these days I will get a good photo of one.  This is a distinct improvement as the last time I posted a “dolphin photo” it was nothing more than a swirl in the water, a sort of “where a dolphin used to be” photo.Also, there enjoying the pickings was a heron, standing about four feet tall.  A regal bird.  I was able to get within ten feet before he had had enough of me and flew off. There are quite a few boats anchored near us here for the GAM and it’s fun to see what sort of craft show up.   I was particularly interested in this boat and the funny boxes “perched” on top of the davits on the stern.   This spot on cruising boats is often occupied by solar panels, an important addition to any boat.  What ever it was, it must be important to take up such prime real estate   They looked a lot like cages to me and I couldn’t imagine what could be inside them.  Perhaps they enjoyed fresh poultry, I imagined, or that they were a member of some sort of satanic cult and needed to keep their sacrificial “offerings”on board.  So, what’s a curious cruiser to do?   How to solve the mystery?   Well, of course, just go say HI, and I did.It turns out that they were pet parrots.  I have seen plenty of boat pets but never parrots.  Having said that, I recall seeing pictures of pirates with a parrot perched on their shoulder so perhaps there is a sort of symmetry to all of this.  So, up I went and introduced myself.  Happily, I was invited aboard Equinox for a tour by Dave and Trish and had my first “aquatic parrot moment”.   I should note that Trish, the true parrot lover in the group, didn’t utter “ahoy matey” even once and if she had an eye patch, in the true pirate tradition, she wasn’t wearing it.  It seems that all parrot owners on the high seas aren’t all blood thirsty savages.  Oh well, another myth settled.Trish introduced me to Lucie (Lucifer when she is bad), a Eclectus and Dante, a Congo African Grey.  It seems that a key benefit to the outside cages, beyond giving their charges an excellent view of the area, is that when they (how can I put this delicately?) poop, it goes in the water instead of on the cabin sole.   Wait a minute.  They poop into the water?  What about avian marine sanitation devices?   I hope that the Environmental Police don’t catch “wind” of this.  Hmm…

So, how do parrots take to sailing?  I learned that Dante does fine but that Lucie suffers from the male de mare and throws up when the going gets rough.  I guess that makes sense, but it seemed pretty funny to me.  The idea of bird puke doesn’t seem that funny but hey, it’s funny in a “potty humor” sort of way.  Trish told me that Lucie does a bit better in the puking department when she sits on the dining table, yes the dining table, on her perch under way and that as the boat sways to the waves, Lucie sways back and forth on her perch staying perfectly still.  Yea, if I were a parrott I’d blow lunch doing that.   Oh, another funny thing is that Lucie, since enduring a traumatic hurricane season in 2004, plucks out her breast feathers so she is in a prepetual state of scruffiness. “OK, OK, I’ll go with you on that ^%$# boat but I am going to pull out all of my feathers if you insist”.   It’s sort of like picking your nails but looks a lot worse.

When the going gets rough they both can hang out in their “down below” cages.   So, cats, dogs, birds?   Which is the best to have on board?   Sounds complicated so I’ll leave it at that.  It would seem, from my tour of Equinox that parrots are not the simplest of all possible boat companions.

Oh yea, one more thing.  As everyone knows, parrots can imitate noises and these two are no exception.   Boating has it’s own set of fun sounds to mimic and these two have picked up some great ones.  How about the beeping that a truck makes when it goes in reverse?  Yea, that’s a good one and the travel lift operators at the marina do a double take when they hear it. Weather alarm on the VHF?  Check.   Some of the sounds that happen on Pandora are best not repeated but I’ll just have to leave it at that.

Switching the subject, have you ever wondered what would happen to that schefflera plant that you have in your living room would look like if it was planted in your lawn?   Me too.  Here’s what happens when one is happy.  Pretty impressive.  So, call me a sheltered New Englander, but I am enjoying seeing new things.  Simple pleasures for simple people.

While Friday’s sunrise was foggy, the first on our trip, we had a terrific sunrise on Thursday morning.    Look at this cloud bank which persisted all day and that evening gave us an amazing light show with dramatic lightening flashes each second for hours.  Happily we were sung at anchor enjoying another great day in paradise.  I wonder if Lucifer and Dante do good thunder too?

Cocoa flora, fauna and some nice homes

It’s Wednesday morning and today we head south to the SSCA Gam in Melbourne for three days and then on to home next Tuesday.  I can’t  believe that we have been away for nearly three months and our trip isn’t even half over.  That’s good.   It seems like only yesterday that our total time aboard for a vacation was only two weeks.  I like this better.  Our trip home for Chistmas will be short and it’s really jam packed.  With less than an month to see everyone and finish up on shopping, we will be plenty busy.  After we come back to Pandora we will have to high-tail it to the Bahamas in order to be there when the boys arrive in Georgetown in early February.

I have been listening to Chris Parker, the weather router, each morning and am beginning to appreciate just how tough it can be to get a decent weather window to make it across the Gulf Stream and all the way to Georgetown.  If we were trying to make the run right now it would not be good as the winds are very strong and from an unpleasant direction.  Well, we will just have to be on our toes as we get closer to our return date in early January.  Weather, and keeping track of it, is a full time focus for cruisers and doubly so in the Bahamas as there are just not that many protected harbors.  This means that when the wind direction changes, you have to move to a new location.   It’s for this reason that most everyone listens to the weather each morning just to be sure that they won’t find themselves on the wrong side of a key (island) when the wind shifts.

As another key part of our preparation for our trip to the Bahamas, we visited friends Jeff and Susan aboard Meltemi, last night and learned to play a version of dominos called Mexican Train, not a particularly PC name, if you ask me.  It was great fun and we are told that this, and other games are very popular with cruisers.   While Brenda and I were feeling like we were ready for bed by the time we dragged ourselves over to their boat at 7:00, we perked right up and had no trouble staying awake for several hours more as we played with them.  However, everyone was pretty pooped as we approached  9:00, “cruiser’s midnight” as it is known among the cruising set.   Me?  I was plenty ready for a nap.  That’s for sure.

Earlier yesterday, prior to nap time or just after our previous nap, depending on how you look at it, we went ashore again in Cocoa and enjoyed a walk around town.  As we had not ventured into the residential areas yet, we decided to see how, or at least where, the locals live.  We didn’t cover a lot of distance  but saw some really nice homes in a section just south of the business district.  The homes were modest and nicely maintained.  This one was our favorite.  We just loved the third floor glassed in room.  I did wonder how this would do in a hurricane.  Also, what happens in the summer when it’s blazing hot outside?  I guess it’s double blazing hot in there.  Very pretty though.   As Brenda and I enjoy saying, “I would live there”.Setting aside the pink shutters, this place would fit in well in our new home town, Essex CT.  What a great color and I love this fence.  It’s funny how these colors look so great in Florida and yet in New England we’d be saying “wow, that’s a blue house”.   I guess it’s always about location in real-estate.
House color isn’t the only thing that’s much different than at home.    On the arbor along the white fence, is this great vine.  I don’t know what it is called but some folks in Essex grow it in the summer.  Here, it’s a perennial   Nice that they were able to color coordinate the flowers with their house color.   There are loads of palm varieties.  I particularly like the pattern of these leaves.  Hard to believe that this sort of pattern is natural. Perhaps there is no more quintessential tropical flower than the bougainvillea. That and the ever popular hibiscus.   Another good one.   And here, they grow year round.  I wonder what the locals use as house plants?   Plants that will die outside because of the heat?  This ornamental orange, with fruit just a few inches across, was very pretty. We have always enjoyed bamboo and had two grand stands in our yard in New Jersey.  In spite of fears of them getting out of control, we had no trouble keeping them in check for nearly 20 years.  However, our variety was nowhere as large as this stand where the shoots were 4″ in diameter and the stalks some 60′ tall.   I’d hate to have to deal with older shoots of this stuff.  I used to chip up the old growth but it would take a really robust chipper to handle this. It’s also fun to see the little lizards scampering around everywhere.  This little guy seemed fine with having his photo taken even though I was only about a foot away.   Of course, he changed his color to blend in with the cement.  “I’ll sit really still and then you won’t see me!”.  Sorry bud, I see you…While not as elaborate as Charleston, St Augustine or some of the other places that we have visited, I recommend that you put Cocoa on your list. It’s a great place to spend a few days and we enjoyed our visit very much.

Need a 4′ long crescent wrench? Go to S.F. Travis Hardware

I have been thinking about how to begin this post as it’s really about my visit to a hardware store.  So, what guy isn’t interested in such a visit?  However, there are hardware stores and there are HARDWARE STORES.  The S.F Travis hardware store in Cocoa Florida isn’t just any hardware store.  It might very well be the  best if not biggest hardware store in the known universe.  And, with NASA so nearby, that’s probably a good thing.  “Harry, hold this, I need to run over to to Travis Hardware to get a nut for the Mars rover.  I’ll be right back.”  Yeah, right…

The store, founded in 1885, has been the go-to place for locals who, as you might imagine if you see their inventory, include folks from NASA and the rest of the “big boys” that work on rocket stuff.  Interestingly, the owner, fourth generation, is a guy named Osborne.  Osborn is a good name. I’m an Osborn in case you didn’t  know.  However, it’s spelled Osborn, without an “e”.

When I was in high school I worked in a hardware store so this sort of business is familiar to me and I never miss an opportunity to visit a hardware store when I can.  However, there was nothing in my experience that prepared me for this place with it’s four floors and multiple buildings.   When you enter the store you see what looks like a typical old-time hardware store with a bunch of guys sitting behind counters waiting on customers.   However, that’s about all that they have in common with a “typical” hardware store.  As I looked around near the front desk, I immediately saw a set of wrenches that you’d never see at a Home Depot.  How about a crescent wrench that’s over four feet long?  They have a whole set.  I asked the owner, Osborne, “so, how many four foot crescent wrenches do you sell in a year?”   His answer…” I sell one to every person who walks through the door that needs one”.    Ok, got it…  hesitation as I processed this.   Another question: “so, what sort of person buys one of these?”.    “guys with really big nuts”.   Check.    No more questions for now.Here we are in Florida and Travis has a large inventory of wood burning stoves.   Huh?  Well, the dust on them suggested that they have been in inventory for some time.   I actually asked the one “lady” at the desk.  “so, I’ll bet that there are plenty of items here that have been here for say, 20 years.”.  She rolled her eyes suggesting that I was way low.  So, I said “50 years?”  Another shrug.  I said, this time with less certainty, “100 years?”.  Her answer… “that’s probably closer and we don’t charge extra for the historic dust”.  There is just so much stuff in that store. Need an empty 50 gal drum, with lid, to mix up some sort of toxic substance?  Rocket fuel perhaps?  Got em… Me, I am more used to the orange “Homer Buckets” that they sell at Home Depot.  No dust on these puppies.  I guess that they are big sellers. All hardware stores have plenty of nuts and bolts.  Not like Travis.  They have literally hundreds, no make that thousands, of bins of every size and description.    And, they have them zinc coated, galvanized, un-coated.   EVERY SIZE.   Need a 3′ long galvanized turnbuckle?  “yeah,we got that.  How about 25?”  And, there is row after row to choose from.  Little stuff, big stuff and lots of it.   Rope?  Have they got rope?  How about a 500′ spool of 3″ nylon rope?  You could tow a barge with this stuff.   And, their customers probably do. Me, I needed a tube of Lubriplate grease to pump into my prop.  They had two kinds of Lubriplate but not the exact type that I needed.   Can you believe it?   They have stuff to build space shuttles but not grease my prop?  I mentioned this to the owner.  “I can’t believe that I need the one item in the world that you don’t have!”.  He sternly, but in a nice way, reminded me that he had two types of Lubriplate and that my problem was that I had a boat and they weren’t a marine store.  I guess that they serve vehicles that run on roads and go into space but not on the water.

So, speaking of water.  I had a productive day yesterday.  I changed the engine oil and filter as well as the two fuel filters.  I also went for swim to change the three zincs on the prop and shaft, something that I had been meaning to for some time but the visibility in the water has not been good enough. Here, the visibility is about 3-4 feet which is pretty good.  And, while the water is in the high 60s, I still needed to suit up as an hour in 69 degree water can get pretty cold.

So, do I look like a mini Jacques Cousteau?  Not bad for a semi-old guy.   Believe it or not, I was able to remove 13 itty-bitty screws and replace all of the parts and I didn’t even drop a single one.   Using a grease gun under water proved to be more challenging than I had anticipated.    Alas, mission accomplished.

After my “swim” we headed into downtown Cocoa and enjoyed a late lunch.  Me, I also had an ice cream cone because I was confident that I had earned it after my aquatic exploits.   Folks question me as to why I don’t hire someone to handle the under water work.  My answer… “I get to have desert!”.   After burning all of those calories I have to put them back and have found that ice cream is the best mechanism that I have been able to come up with.

Cocoa also has a really nice waterfront park, complete with a fountain.   The fountain is one of those where there isn’t a pond under the fountain at all.  The water squirts up through holes in a flat tile base and runs off into a grate at the edge of the fountain.  I was amused by a sign posted near the fountain stating that there was “no diving”.   What’s that all about?   There isn’t a pool under the fountain at all.  It’s just a slab with water squirting out of holes.  Well, they warned you.  NO DIVING into the cement slab.  I guess that the town lawyers made a case that those that needed to be warned were the same folks that watch prime time TV, perhaps not the brightest stars in the galaxy.The downtown streets are very quaint with shops of all sorts to choose from. Cocoa is a really nice city and well worth the visit.   The sign as you enter the waterfront park reminds you to enjoy the holidays.   Bummer about the miss-matched type. Perhaps they should talk to Osborne at Travis Hardware.  I’ll bet that they have a proper “H” in stock.  No, make that 100 in stock. We plan to enjoy yet another day in Cocoa before we head south to Melbourne to the SSCA gam on Wednesday.   Oh yeah, the sun is out and it’s another beautiful day.

Deck the Hulls Matey. We aren’t in Kansas any more.

It’s Monday morning and the sun isn’t yet up here in Cocoa.  Having said that, I expect that today, like the last few days, will begin with an absolutely wonderful sunrise.  I have to take sunrise photos as it is the only way that Brenda can enjoy them.   She has often said that her natural state is asleep.  Unfortunately, that “natural state” often alludes her until around dawn.   So, photos of the last two sunrises when we were in St Augustine are for Brenda.  If one fab sunrise is good, a second is better. Yesterday we came through Mosquito Bay and area that was just a ditch run through miles and miles of a shallow bay that is rarely more than five feet deep.  Even though there was water all around us the constant threat of running aground kept us on our toes.  After a nearly 50km run for the day we were tired and had certainly had enough.   The wind had also piped up so that we were motoring into it after some motor sailing earlier in the day.  Having to stay in the channel to avoid running aground was made even more fun given the large amount of weekend boat traffic.   Adding an additional bit of tension was the fact that my max prop has been vibrating a bit, something that shouldn’t be happening as I had it rebuilt a few years ago.  I expect that it needs more grease in the hub which I will pump in today.  However, there may be more to it, perhaps the shaft log nuts are loose.  Who knows. Vibration in the running gear is not a good thing as it, if not addressed, can shake other things loose.  Fortunately when this happens, I can put the shift into reverse and then back in forward which smooths things out.  Having said that, it can’t be good for the transmission.

My friend Keith, who has run his boat north and south many times, says that you are really in Florida after you pass St Augustine.  I believe him as while the water temperature, which was stuck in the low 60s for much of our trip south, rose by nearly ten degrees shortly after leaving St Augustine.  While I don’t know if it was just a different weather pattern over the last few days, we are now enjoying our first warm weather (that’s no heat required in the evenings and mornings and shorts during the day) in a long time.   Over the last few months, we have chased the cooler weather and water temperatures south as we progressed along the way.   Warmer is better as I will have to go for a swim today to deal with the prop as well as the shaft and prop zincs that need to be changed.   I am also glad that the water is somewhat clearer,  I expect that the visibility is at least a few feet here, something that we haven’t seen since we entered the ICW.  Tough to handle zincs when you can’t see anything. It’s a good thing that I have the hookah dive compressor as it will take me plenty of time to get all of this done.

Setting aside the drudgery of yesterday’s run, the last few days have been great fun.  In particular, we have watched the scenery change from miles of marsh to a mix of wetlands and residential development.   While it may have happened sooner than I realized, we have now entered an area of mangrove instead of the grasslands that were dominant further north.This was a nice looking lighthouse that we passed on our way past the Ponce De Leon inlet, just south of Daytona beach.  There are plenty of bridges in Florida and the further south we get the more there are.  Within about one mile in South Smyrna we passed five bridges.  To give this some context, in all of Georgia we only went under five.

As we looked behind us, three.  In front, two more.  Love the mosaic work that was on every piling of this bridge. Perhaps it was a plastic stick-on, but I couldn’t get that close to see for sure.  My vote is for something more durable.   This sort of ornamentation wouldn’t hold up well in the north. The attention to detail certainly demonstrates how important the water economy is here in Florida.  “If you like this bridge, you’ll love our city.  Stop and spend money!”  I stopped but didn’t get off of Pandora to spend a dime.  Sorry.We are also in manatee country but have not yet seen one yet.  Given the fact that these gentle creatures don’t swim very fast, it’s amazing that there are any left given the massive amount of boat traffic where they live.   I am told that nearly all of them have nasty scars on their backs from the props of passing boats.   Very sad.

On a lighter note, we had our first dose of Christmas boat parade when we were anchored in New Smyrna.   As we headed toward our destination we passed this boat with a full, and well amplified, band on board.  That and the pirate motif are certainly writing home about, and that’s what I will do.  Or, at least I’ll include photos.   Pretty funny. I wonder if they had life jackets for all on board?  I am trying to imagine how a Coast Guard boarding would go with this group.  “Matey, have yee flotation devices for your crew and wenches?”   So, any votes as to who is the captain?  My vote is for the grumpy guy on the left.  Behind him, head wench?  Well, at least happiest wench. This vessel had everything a pirate could want, even a trusty teddy bear.

We anchored south of New Smyrna and had dinner in the cockpit with some friends, Ginny and Ted off of Firecracker, a sistership to Pandora.  They too are on their first run to the Bahamas.

As the evening progressed, we were passed by boat after boat heading to the start of the parade.  This one, unlit was just a hint as to the extent of the decorations. Later, after dark, all the boats passed us again, ablaze with lights.  And, all this in the company of the Coast Guard, complete with flashing blue lights and a good attempt to show that they too knew how to “deck the hulls”.  I guess this is the one time of year when the rules of the road for vessel lighting are suspended.   It was too dark to get a good photos as the boats paraded by but this will give you a feel for what it looked like.  Well, this is what Santa and Rudolf would have looked like if you had enough to drink, which we did. What was this?  Don’t know, but it was blue. If I recall, the little brown guy on top was Snoopy.
Yes, this was a sport fisherman, complete with outriggers. It was a great show for sure.  I am beginning to get used to this palm tree Christmas thing.   Yes, it’s looking pretty good.  And no Dorothy, we aren’t in Kansas any more.  That’s for sure.