22 & 23 Vero Beach and Christmas 1997

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The pine cones came from Cumberland Island, the seashells from along Atlantic beaches, and the creative inspiration from Ruth. The result is a special Christmas tree winter scene with pine cone and seashell Christmas trees guarded by Santa we acquired in Savannah. The scene occupies a prominent spot on one of the main cabin shelves. Like magic, cherished ornaments from our years together appeared and decorated the main cabin. They brought the feeling of the season and our joy of many Christmas’s past to the forefront. A string of lights wrapped around the mast as it passes through the main cabin adds the lights of Christmas to the interior. Christmas cards on the bookshelf complete the festive appearance. Overall it brings the spirit of Christmas to our cozy watery home. The only thing missing is the warmth that can only come with being with our kids on Christmas. For us, this will be the first time we’ve been apart as a family and it hurts.

There was a strong urge to provide an outside decoration; if only to say thank you to all the people along the ICW who had put up decoration on the water side of their homes for passing boaters. We went looking for a real wreath. On the third stop we got a dose of the smell of Christmas inside a tent where they made wreaths. The smell of pine was incredible and brought back a flood of memories of Christmas trees in our houses. We got a small wreath and some lights. Now on the lifelines, a lighted wreath greets visitors to the dock.

Saturday afternoon Vero Beach had a boat parade. 25 boats passed in review as we sat in a prime spot at the end of the dock. We had a boat full of guests. Marion, Jim and Doreen, their friends Tom and Maryjo and our friends Don and Cynthia from Milwaukee were all aboard for the parade. The parade was fun with a whole variety of Christmas displays on the boats. Made for a fun afternoon.

As we chatted with Don and Cynthia that evening, moving lights in the distance caught our eyes. As we watched, the lights came closer, revealing two dozen lighted kayaks. Some had garlands of Christmas lights strung along the hull, and up and around the paddler’s head. Others had internal lights making the kayak glow like large ornaments. A few had lighted plastic Santa’s affixed to their bows. The night was perfect, warm and, quiet not a breath of air. The kayaks approached without a sound. They gathered around Tranquility and we joined them in singing Christmas carols. Made for a very special night and helped us get a little more comfortable with having Christmas when it’s warm outside.

The first time of something new is always the hardest. Spent Christmas Eve and Christmas Day with both family and friends. For us it was mixed emotions. We enjoyed the newness of the experience, but missed all the years of love and traditions that had been part of having every Christmas with our kids. Even with all the warmth of being with family and phone calls with the kids, we both felt lonely.

The day after Christmas began to get things back to normal. We were alone without commitments for the first time in over a week. Felt very good. We both unwound by getting a number of boat chores done. Now all we are down to is waiting for the refrigerator to get here so I can install it. Once that’s complete, we’ll be off for the Bahamas.

We’ve been traveling for 7 months now and we should be used to meeting up with long lost boats. For us it’s still a thrill. As we sorted out Vero Beach, we found Galiander and Windswept, last seen in the Chesapeake. We had a fun reunion with John and Eleanor off Galiander and feel sad for Windswept who may have to have their engine rebuilt. Added Bondar to out growing list of boating friends. Frank and Audrey are from New Brunswick, but keep their boat in Maine. After talking with them, we’ve decided we should definitely do Maine this summer.

We’re slowly getting used to the 80-80 days. 80 degree temperature and 80 percent relative humidity. Hot and sticky; makes you go a little slower and divide work up into smaller increments. As for our R&R list, we’ve made good progress. To give you a feel of what one does on a repair and refit, here are some of the completed tasks. Put a new zinc anode on the propeller shaft. That took about 5-6 dives holding my breath for as long as possible. Tough part was not dropping the anode or tools when my breath gave out. Ruth cleaned and waxed the sides and waterline to get the scum marks off. We installed new gaskets on all the ports to stop the leaks when it rained. Installed new trim rings to eliminate frame leaks around ports. 11-inches of rain in 5 days revealed many leak problems. Also are trying out new port rain shields so we can leave the ports open when it rains. Added epoxy to the shallow bilge so it drains when water gets in. Insulated the top of the icebox for more efficiency. Cleaned the teak. Wired in a second VHF speaker so we can hear the radio in the cockpit when motoring. There’s more, but you get the idea. We’ve traded grass cutting and snow shoveling for boat cleaning and upkeep.

The dinghy dock at Vero Beach is a challenge. With all the boats on moorings, the dock is always full of dinks. No mater when you go in, it looks like the dock is full and another boat will not fit. Fortunately, most of them are inflatables so you pick a spot and bump your way in pushing the other dinks aside to make room. When things get serious, boats tie off using a long painter (boater talk for the line off the front of the dink) and you start a second row and climb over the dinks in ahead of you. So far we’ve been able to play bumper boats and nudge our way into the dock.

Getting off the dinghy dock is also a challenge. Our dink is usually smothered by other dinks, so we have to fight our way back out. Again we play bumper boats and bounce our way out. Then we run into the unexpected events. I’d climbed in and was working on getting the engine started. Ruth had untied the dink and was climbing in when there was a loud splash. I turned around to find her half in the water. Needless to say, her she was a little embarrassed and very wet. I grabbed a handful of jeans and pulled her aboard. We were the only people at the dock, so she was spared the chuckles she would have gotten if there had been witnesses.

It may have been the dunking that gave Ruth the determination to conquer the dink. The next morning when we were going to split with me doing boat chores and Ruth going to visit her mom. She undertook the challenge of starting the motor, succeeded and for the first time took off in the dinghy by herself. Now running the dink and starting the motor is second nature and we have to flip to see who is going to drive.

The collection of cars at the power station told us that something different was going on. We walked over and were delighted to see and there were at least 20 manatees staying warm in the warm water outflow. One little boy had grabbed a branch and was feeding one. As it came up to nibble on the branch, he’d pat it on the nose. The size range of the manatees was huge. We saw small babies next to mom, juveniles, and huge males. The water was clear enough so that we could see the entire manatee. We watched for a half-hour or more as they swam and stuck their nose just above the water to breathe.

Equally enjoyable was the kid fishing across the canal. He had two pelican buddies. They were as intent as he was on watching the line for any sign of a bite. Once he has a fish on, they tried to grab it as he pulled it out of the water. The small ones he tossed to them and they got their snack. Made for an interesting diversion as we watched the manatees swim in the canal.

The next day we took camera back to get pictures, but the manatees had moved on and all that remained were people searching the water for any sign of them. We felt happy in that our two-year quest to see manatees in their natural element had finally been fulfilled.

We were enjoying an early morning bike ride when it started to sprinkle. No sense in making a dash for the boat, we were 3 miles away. We continued to ride and it continued to rain. Wasn’t long before we were soaked. Nice thing was that we were pretty sweaty before the rain started, and the warm rain cooled us down without making us very cold. As we reached the boardwalk the rain let up and there was a rainbow out over the ocean. Along the boardwalk the mist in the air softened everything off in the distance and the scene looked like a painting.

After many phone calls and much frustration, our replacement refrigeration components finally came. One big box about 3 feet square. We had 20-mph winds in the harbor so wrestling it into the dink and then up onto Tranquility was a bit of a challenge. Then the fun really began. We found the main cooling plate was 5 inches longer than advertised. Spent all evening measuring, rechecking and figured that by carefully bending the tubing, we could make everything fit. Then I went to bed and worried all night. Figured that was better than trying to do some tricky bending when I was tired and screw things up. Early the next morning we did the bending and got everything to fit with no room to spare.

Did the traditional guy thing and couldn’t complete the project without going to the hardware store for a new tool. Got a battery-powered drill so I could drive the screws to hold the plate in place. The refrigerator compressor is still sitting in the middle of the galley floor all hooked up and running. Tomorrow it gets secured back in its locker and all the tubing gets secured so during rough weather nothing moves.

Waiting for the refrigeration components has held us at Vero Beach longer than anticipated. We didn’t really mind. It’s a nice place to be, we enjoyed visiting with family, and we don’t really have any serious commitments to be someplace else. Now however, we’ve started reading all the guides for what’s around the next bend, and what things are like in the Bahamas. The boats stocked and we’re ready to go. If the weather window opens up we’ll be able to cross early next week.

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