97 Key Largo, FL to Vero Beach, FL

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A walk to the road confirmed we’d quite unintentionally found a spot in the Keys away from everything and very much to our liking. Besides the lift bridge carrying US 1 over Jew Fish Creek and a motel/marina on either side of the creek all we had were mangroves, traffic noise and a warning from the dock master to be careful at night because sometimes crocodiles came out to warm themselves on the hot driveway. We never saw the crocks, but we did find the motel had a nice tiki bar and restaurant. That’s where Dean and Linda found us. In just over a year they’ll retire, take delivery of a new Trawlercat and begin living and traveling like we do. We’d invited them for the night to experience sleeping aboard. At 2 AM we realized we could easily spend the rest of the morning enjoying each other’s company, but wisely crashed and got some sleep.

Depressing, continuous heavy traffic, normal for the Keys, became apparent as we started north in a rental car. Approaching Miami the Key’s traffic didn’t seem so bad because traffic around Miami was even worse. The day was only half over, and we were already looking forward to traveling on the water instead of roads.

The Catalina Hotel on Miami Beach, jammed hard against the sidewalk has no access drive. The street, filled beyond capacity with slow moving vehicles, resembled a parking lot in spite of the no parking signs. Being creative we circled the block then pulled the rental car partially onto the sidewalk. Ruth ran inside to find out about parking. Back she came with directions to a public lot four blocks away. On the outside the hotel has classic 1950’s styling. Premium room prices gave access to an interior which–judging by the movie photos along the halls was last modernized sometime around 1960. Our room window looked at a brick wall, the phone was missing, as was the TV remote. The bed sagged, but the shower was warm. The tired room was clean and provided a convenient place to crash after days at the Miami Boat Show.

Bob and Kris off Sea Change flew in from Milwaukee and stayed at the same funky hotel. We’d meet each evening to explore people-filled streets looking a sidewalk restaurant that caught our mutual interests. Over dinner we people-watched and swapped notes about the unique, outrageous, and useful items we found at the show.

Memories of ketchup-slow traffic, and hassles land people accept as normal faded away as we enjoyed happy hour aboard Odyssey. Talk about quiet anchorages and cruising experiences with Ralph & Steph from Sea Jay and Tom and Dianna off Tomcat made us itchy to be on the move again. Early the next morning we were boat people again and on the move.

The New River, a deep, narrow, twisting ribbon heads off the ICW and through the heart of Fort Lauderdale. We headed up to spend a few days exploring the city. A security call on the VHF announced the Jungle Queen was down bound at the tunnel just as we started around a sharp blind corner of the river. Swinging wide we found ourselves bow on to the Jungle Queen, a huge tour boat. We quickly backed Odyssey down and tucked in close to shore as she passed. We found our tiny spot in among huge charter boats and tied up at the city dock.

VHF 9 came alive with continuous traffic adding scale to the scene unfolding in front of us. Bridge open requests, security calls and boat passing discussions flowed out of the radio in a continuous stream. We watched and listened as an incredible fleet of huge broker boats, fresh from the Miami Boat Show, headed up river to marinas specializing in boats over 100 feet. Things got complicated as the Jungle Queen again worked its way down river generating all kinds of interesting radio exchanges and boat maneuvers as everyone worked out passing and bridge openings. Bridge lock downs for rush hour trapped the last returning boats with no place to go for an hour. We enjoyed the captain’s skills as one-by-one the huge boats worked in and rafted off charter boats along the shore to wait for the bridges to resume operation.

Moving again we were surprised about how many minutes after a boat passed we could feel and see wake as it sloshed between the concrete sea walls of the ICW. We were glad traffic was light since with nothing to absorb or dissipate the wakes this concrete canyon portion of the ICW would rapidly become an unpleasant ride when a number of boats were moving. Poorly designed and bewildering sets of signs attempt to regulate speed and wake along this portion of the ICW. Instead of simple “no wake” or “25 mph” speed limit signs there are signs with multiple sentences on them. Our favorite was the one limiting wake to 15″ but saying nothing about speed. We missed one of the confusing signs and picked up speed too soon. The marine patrol pulled us over and we got a ticket for excessive wake.

A heart stopping sound and horrendous vibration had us doing an emergency shut down. We drifted for a minute or two trying to figure out what happened. We were sure we’d hit a rock or something and had torn out the starboard side of the boat. Checks for leak were negative, but putting the engine in gear brought back boat-shaking vibration confirming major damage to the skeg-protected-prop. On one engine we limped on for over an hour to an anchorage at Peck Lake.

A man ashore was waving as we set the anchor in the fading sunset. I waved back and he cupped his hands and shouted: “I need help, my jet ski won’t start.” Lowering the dinghy, we divided forces. Ruth headed off to rescue the man. Easing into the water I went down to check the front of the skeg and was shocked to find it undamaged. Another breath and I went down to check the prop and was again shocked. Instead of the bent blades I expected, I found one of the 4 blades was missing and the other 3 blades seemed to be fine. The prop had broke and threw off a blade.

Ruth returned well after dark with her own adventure. She’d collected the man, then his jet ski. At his insistence they’d tried 2-3 boats in the anchorage to see if someone had a method for giving his jet ski a jump-start. None did so she towed him back across the ICW to a marina.

The efficiency of the David Lowe Boatyard in Stuart, FL is impressive. Within 10 minutes of our arrival, Odyssey was out of the water, her props pulled and shafts checked. A bottom wash was started as soon as we moved out of the way. Four days and a large repair bill later we were back in the water. Slowly we’ve sorted out what happened. Our grounding in the Manatee River had evidently bent a strut, cracked one of prop blades, and bent and cracked one propeller shaft. Finally the blade failed completely and fell off.

As we pulled into Vero Beach we decided to stop traveling for a while and see what it’s like to stay in one place for an extended period. We’ll remain boat people living aboard Odyssey. Instead of living at a dock, we’ll go out on a mooring so we’ll be anchored out. Vero Beach is one of the most boater friendly places we’ve found and we’ll get to know it a little better. Journal entries will also take a rest and will resume once we start moving again.

___________________________________________

Marion, Ruth’s mom has been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and been given 6 months to live. She’s 88, in great spirits and has decided to let things happen naturally. She’s been our inspiration, and we’ll try to return a small part of the love and kindness she’s given us as we help make her as comfortable and happy as possible.

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