Saturday, February 21, 2015

Pictures, Pictures, Pictures - photo album of our Great Loop adventure

Here's a link to just about all of the pictures we've taken since we started "The Loop" back in March 2014 - not necessarily in order, and no descriptions. (We'll add those later, if anyone is interested.) 


Thursday, February 19, 2015

Boat Life - Random Thoughts and Random Photos

On a recent beautiful Sunday afternoon in Fort Myers, Florida, as I checked items off my list of boat chores that must be done before we left in the morning for our next stop, I got to thinking about how life aboard a 38' trawler is different from life in a house. Then I decided that maybe at least some of our friends would want to know how we do ordinary things, things that no one who lives in a house - or apartment, or condo, or even a mobile home - really thinks about very often, things like:
  • How do laundry? get groceries? refill prescriptions? get your mail? 
  • Will Midas go with you?  How will he "get busy"? Does he get seasick? 
  • What about your house? 
  • What do you have to do on a boat that you don't do at home?   
I've mentioned some of those things in earlier blogs, mostly in passing, and I've commented about some of them on my Facebook page. This post will be the "nitty-gritty" of boat life - the good, the bad, the beautiful, and yes, the ugly. So here goes...

At our house in Dahlonega, laundry is simply a matter of stuffing dirty clothes into the washer, adding detergent and Oxiclean, and turning it on. We keep two laundry baskets on top of the washer & dryer, one for whites and one for colors. On a boat, it starts with gathering up any random items that haven't already made it into the fold-up  hampers in my hanging closet, then hauling them to the marina's laundry room (at most stops). We have a small collapsible cart that I use when I'm taking two loads at once, especially when they're heavy. Other times, we just carry them, now that Mike has improved the thin handles by reinforcing them with white duct tape.  Don't forget detergent and Oxiclean, and be sure to have plenty of quarters. (One of our boat "best practices" is to never ever spend a quarter. All quarters are mine, and they go into a small ziplock bag until needed. Most marinas keep a supply on hand and will exchange a roll of them for $10.) The cost per load to wash has ranged from free (very rare) to $1 or $2 and sometimes more.  Dryers are usually the same cost as the washers. 

Some boaters hang out in the laundry room until their clothes are done; unless we've had to go to an off-site laundromat in town, I start the wash, set the timer on my phone, and come back to the boat.  I leave the laundry hampers on top of the machines, and if another boater needs the washer before I get back to move them to the dryer, it's a given that the next person can put the clothes in the hamper or into a vacant dryer. The same principle applies to dryers. If you need a dryer, take the finished load out and leave it in the basket or on the folding table that most marinas have in their laundry. One especially kind fellow Looper even folds the other boater's clothes for them (going above and beyond, if you ask me). When all loads are done, it's back to the boat to fold and put away. We generally have two loads/week, and sometimes more. 

Boaters don't get groceries, we "provision." Yes, my grammar Nazi persona, lurking just beneath the surface, flinches with every use of a noun as a verb, but that's boat jargon, and we must sound nautical, musn't we? When we're lucky, the marina may have a courtesy car, or a Harbor Host may offer to provide transportation. In many waterfront towns, there's a grocery store within walking distance of the marina, so we unfold our collapsible red wagon, grab our insulated bags (we now have four) and set off, pulling the wagon behind us. Midas often goes along, and he waits outside, leashed to a post or bench, when there's a shady spot. Mike sometimes waits with him, which means more efficient shopping for me.  We bought the cart after seeing another boater pulling one back to Atlantic Yacht Basin, and it has proven very useful. In some stores, I take the cart in and load it up instead of pushing a basket. Funny looks? A few, but when they learn we're traveling by boat, most folks smile and agree that the cart is a great idea.  

Once the provisions are back on the boat, the first challenge is finding space for everything, especially in our four-foot tall refrigerator.  The freezer is very small, and it's not frost-free. With six ice trays and a gallon size zip-lock bag full of ice taking up most of the lower level, we stuff bags of frozen veggies on the top shelf; meat goes into zip-lock bags behind the ice trays.  Finding items can also be a challenge, since there's no light in the fridge.  Solution? Turn on the work light over the stove, stoop down or squat, and pull things out to see what's hiding behind the items on the front of the shelves.  And don't buy the large economy size of anything, because the containers are too tall for the shelves. They have just barely enough room for a can of beer or ginger ale, and the door shelves are too small for a tea pitcher. 
Since none of our friends or family have been able to join us for part of the trip since April, we use the forward cabin as pantry space for items like the personal size shop vac, napkins, 12-packs of paper towels (a high use necessity), garbage bags, sheets for the forward bunks, and 12-packs of ginger ale. Mike built shelves in the forward hanging locker to increase our storage space. The back wall follows the inward curve of the bow.

 Cooking in the small galley is the second challenge, with minimal counter space, a four-burner LP gas stove, small stainless steel sinks, and no sprayer to rinse dishes.Despite the limitations, Marian has managed to produce some pretty darn good meals, simple but tasty and filling.  We put the toaster oven and microwave to good use.

Prescription refills can be fun.  Mike's daily assortment is all on file with Walmart, and any Walmart can pull him up in the computer and provide a 90-day supply.  The one exception was when he needed a refill while we were in Canada.  Pharmacies there have only recently been allowed to accept prescriptions from a Canadian doctor in a different province, and don't even think about getting your U.S. doctor to fax or phone in a prescription.  When the Walmart in Parry Sound, Ontario couldn't refill a blood pressure medication, 
Mike had to go to a nursing station in Britt, our next stop. Once he visited the nursing station, using the marina's courtesy car, the pharmacy in -- you guessed it: Parry Sound -- sent the medicine by courier, the next day.  The marina manager kindly picked it up on her way to work. I've used CVS for the two daily prescriptions I take.  The Fort Myers Beach CVS, a five-minute walk from the marina, was filling the prescription when we arrived, thanks to a Sunday afternoon phone call from our family doctor.  The Marco Island CVS was a bit harder; our doctor's office had phoned in the information but did not think to spell my first name.  When we arrived, they had no record of the call, even though the doctor's office assured me they had called immediately.  The pharmacist who took the information misheard "Marian" as "Mary Ann" (a common mistake), and the information was on a piece of paper!  Thanks to my persistence and the pharmacist being willing to go beyond the computer, Mary Ann became Marian, and I soon had my prescription.

There are probably as many ways to get mail as there are Loopers. Some use a mail service that collects and forwards mail; others rely on family. We are beyond blessed to have next-door neighbors who not only keep an eye on the house and check on it regularly but also collect our mail.  By now, Christine can tell which items can be left for later in our house and which may need attention. When mail looks important, she uses her iPhone to take pictures of the envelopes (or opens the mail and takes pictures of the contents), then texts it to us.  During our first week on Marco Island, Mike had received a letter from the Veterans Administration and one from his Masonic lodge.  Mike was able to read them; we found a business that would accept an incoming fax, and we were able to handle both matters quickly.  Christine has also forwarded mail to a marina to hold for us, and most marinas are happy to hold mail for their transient customers. It's routine for them.

As most readers of this blog know, of course Midas came with us. We would not have made the trip without him, and by now he's a seasoned sailor.  When we're docked or anchored, he curls up on his mat while we're in the salon; when he's ready to call it a night, he stretches, stares at us as if to say, "Don't you guys think it's bedtime?", then picks up his chew-bone and goes down the two steps from the salon to the master cabin, where he curls up on his towel in the middle of our bed.  Some evenings, he wants to join us on the couch, and we always make room.  

So far, he hasn't shown any signs of serious seasickness, but when the water gets rough - especially when the waves are hitting us broadside and causing the boat to roll - we can tell he's uneasy.  He begins panting and moves as close to Marian on the bench as he can get.  Now that he has an anxiety bandana, he's more comfortable in rough water. The bandana has a Velcro-sealed pouch, which we fill with a mixture of lavender and other aromatic herbs. Within a few minutes, Midas is his usual relaxed self.  
One of the best attributes of Goldens, at least for boating Goldens, is their amazing ability to go for hours and hours between potty stops.  When we're cruising, it's one trip ashore after he eats breakfast and one after he eats dinner. If we're docked, we give him more frequent breaks.  If we know we'll have an especially long day, we reduce the amount of food he gets for breakfast and limit his water.  He made the 20-hour crossing from Carrabelle to Dunedin with no problems, and he's finally becoming less particular about suitable "poopy places." Thick grass will do when there's no long weeds available, and we never leave the boat without poop bags.  It's all part of owning a dog, and the joy that Midas brings us and the many people he's met on our travels makes it all worthwhile.

Boatkeeping instead of housekeeping requires a different set of skills and a different routine.  Mike has become a near-expert diesel mechanic, at least when it comes to routine maintenance like oil changes (every 100 hours), checking the oil before every cruising day, changing fuel filters, repairing or replacing light fixtures, installing a bilge pump... there's always something that needs to be done.  When the color coating on the inside of the running lights faded, we went to an Office Depot in Fort Myers to get new red and green plastic film (print an intense color on transparency paper), and Mike used our time at Rose Marina on Marco Island to install the replacement film.  The lights now glow bright red on the port side and bright green on starboard. 

Marine toilets don't work like land-based ones, and when we come into a marina, we typically have to pump out the holding tank. No solid waste goes into the aft head, which has a manual pump for flushing, and toilet paper goes into a Walmart/Publix/Shop'nGo/IGA plastic bag lined trash can in the under-sink cabinet. Pull the bag out, tie it, and add it to the regular garbage bag when we take trash ashore.  For the forward head, we use special RV/Marine toilet paper, which dissolves in the tank, and we use only as much as absolutely necessary. When we're docked at a marina, we try to use the shore-based restrooms as much as possible. 
 Our fresh water tank holds 250 gallons, and we fill it at each marina before we leave.  Mike installed two water filters on the stern to make sure our drinking water is always sweet tasting. The white hose on the left goes into the opening below - after we remove the cover, of course.  Filling the tank is usually, but not always, Marian's job. 


 The dinghy, attached to its davits and ready to board, after we add life jackets.
Especially when we know that we'll then be anchoring out or on a mooring ball for several days, we're very frugal with our finite water supply. We've found that showering every other day when anchored out is sufficient. Our recent stay in Smokehouse Bay on Marco Island set a new record - six consecutive days. We don't leave the faucet running to wash dishes; don't leave the water running when we brush our teeth. Showers are short and shampoos are less frequent.   Turn on the water; wet yourself all over - including hair on shampoo days; lather up your hair; squirt shower gel onto the net scrubber; wash, shave underarms. NOW you can turn the water back on to rinse. We still get clean.  When we're at a marina, we take advantage of their facilities to take long, luxurious showers. 

Before we leave a dock or pull the anchor, there's a checklist:
1. Check the engine oil - which means Mike pulls up the hatch in the salon floor, drops into the engine room, and pulls the dipstick to make sure the oil level is correct. How many of you check the oil in your car before you start it every day? The trusty Ford Lehman diesel is on the left and the Westerbeke generator is on the right in the picture below.
 2. Set up the upper helm for travel - turn on the VHF radio and the GPS, plug in the iPad and external GPS and make sure that Bluetooth is active and that our boat is in the correct position on the Garmin BlueChart mobile display.  This chart enables us to access Active Captain and find invaluable information on marinas, anchorages, locks, and bridge clearances. For anchorages and marinas, we rely heavily on the user reviews and whether there's a good place to take pets ashore.  And don't forget our second cups of coffee!  

On warm, sunny days, we leave the hatch from the aft deck to the salon open, making it easy to go below for a snack or a cold drink.  The steps on the right side of the photo lead to the aft deck.
When we're underway, the Garmin cover is off, and the iPad is positioned to the left. The skipper focuses primarily on the Garmin Chartplotter and the first mate watches the iPad display, which can be enlarged to show detail of the area; the Active Captain overlay on BlueChart Mobile has icons that open to tell us about marinas and anchorages in the area, bridge heights, and more.
3.  If we're docked, we have to disconnect the shore power cord from the pedestal on the dock and from the connector next to the cabin entry, roll up the heavy cord, and stow it under the port seat on the upper helm.  If we've anchored out, we start the engine; Marian turns on the windlass at the main panel and goes to the bow while Mike and Midas take their positions on the upper helm. As Mike steers, Marian steps on the switch in the deck to activate the windlass and pull in the anchor, usually a smooth process.  With the high winds we've had lately, we've begun setting out two anchors; Marian pulls in the back-up anchor manually, then uses the windlass to pull in the primary one.
4. Leaving a slip is no longer the big challenge it was when we began the Loop because Mike has become an expert at maneuvering Midas Touch, even in strong wind or current.  Once the engine is running, Mike unties the dock lines (sometimes with help from the marina dock hand) and steps aboard as Marian stands by with the boat hook to keep us away from pilings and nearby boats. Mike goes quickly to the upper helm to "wheel" the boat out of a slip or away from a tie alongside dock, and once we're clear, Marian coils the lines and pulls in the fenders.
As we approach the dock in a marina, there's a different procedure. 
1. Marian's job is to deploy the fenders and have a bow line, stern line and midship line ready to toss to the dockhand as Mike carefully maneuvers the boat into the slip or alongside the dock. Before we approach, we hail the marina on VHF channel 16 to let them know we're close and to get our slip assignment. (Sometimes we get our slip number when we make our reservation, and we always ask for a starboard tie-up because the exit door and shore power connection is on the starboard side.) 
2. Once we're in throwing range, Marian stands on the bow and heaves the line to the dockhand.  Her cowgirl skills have improved on the trip, and she almost never misses.  The first line is the key; once that line is secured to a cleat, Mike shifts into reverse and the stern naturally swings toward the dock, close enough that Marian can simply pass the stern line across to the dock hand.  Mike and the dock hand then adjust the lines to pull the boat as close to the dock as possible; Marian brings the power cord down from the upper helm and connects it to the boat, then takes the other end to Mike to plug us in to the pedestal, flips a few switches at the main panel, et voila - shore power! Electricity. Lights are brighter. We can vacuum, charge house batteries, run the water heater, and watch TV (if we can pick up any stations. Reception here in southwest Florida is poor.)
Anchoring requires a different set of steps, again with Mike at the helm and Marian on the bow. Midas wants to come to the bow to help, but we try to keep him on the upper helm and out of the way.  
1. Marian first makes sure the windlass switches are set to on, then stands at the bow, right foot ready, until we reach a good spot and the right depth, ideally 10 - 12 feet.  Mike calls out "Now!" and Marian steps on the down switch, letting the anchor drop, first 50' of chain, then 10 - 30 feet of "rode." The length of rode depends on our depth and the tide, with the scope ranging from 4 to 1 with minimal tidal shifts, little current and light winds to 7 to 1 in areas like the Georgia coast with a bigger tidal range.  
2. Once the anchor is down, Marian makes sure the rode is taut and the anchor is holding, then cuts the engine. Lately, when we've anchored with high winds predicted, we've set a second anchor as a back-up. This involves dropping the second anchor to Mike in the dinghy; Mike then putt-putts out at least as far as the primary anchor, drops the Danforth anchor (two prongs instead of the one point on the primary plow anchor), and Marian dogs it down to the Samson post on the bow.  

3. When the anchors are secure, we load up the dinghy and head ashore, either to a dinghy dock, a boat ramp, or a sandy (if we're lucky) beach.  Midas is always happy to set foot on land and find a "get busy" spot. 

Questions?  Just ask!  

Saturday, February 7, 2015

"It's a Boat" - When Things Go Wrong, and They Always Do, and What To Do Next? Keep Going!

Remember our earlier post with pictures of Midas Touch in a sling, hauled out in Carrabelle, FL for leak repair?  That quick, easy fix turned out to be a two-week, much more complicated repair, keeping us in the sling - again - at Dockside Marina in Carrabelle. When Eric, Luke and the terrific Dockside crew lowered us back into the water on December 30th, the bilge pump started again immediately. Eric, Dockside owner and boat guru, shook his head and said, "This is what we were afraid of.  Looks like the problem is the shaft log after all. 
We'll need to haul her back out, remove the shaft log, and probably install a new one." With nothing more that could be done that day, we went back to C-Quarters to spend New Year's Eve with the friends we'd made there and in Panama City: Robby and Brenda with their Papillon Radar on Crazzy Nufff, Byron and Cynthia with their Wire-haired Griffin Toots on Bright Angel, plus Barb and Ross on Attitude Changer, Bob and his dog Duncan on El Nido, and Chuck and Susan on Beach House.  It was a quiet celebration - potluck dinner and champagne - but we couldn't stay awake long enough to ring out the old and ring in the new. 
Attitude Changer and El Nido on our way from Panama City to Apalachicola. Bright Angel and Crazzy Nufff left later but overtook us on the way. They're faster but burn more fuel.
 One of our pot-lucks at C-Quarters in Carrabelle. Everybody brings a dish to share and their own plates and utensils. Somehow, we always ended up with a relatively balanced meal and more than enough for all.
 Life is good at Dockside - plenty of sticks, and palm fronds if a good stick isn't handy. Midas could run free while the boat was on blocks, and made friends with Francesca and Belle.

This is a typical Carrabelle shrimp boat, one of several docked across the river from Dockside.
 Carmel, the middle of three great kids who live on a 28-foot sailboat with their parents. We first met them at Turner Marine in Mobile, and the day we pulled in to the Fort Walton Beach City Dock, they spotted the boat and ran along the shore, calling "Midas, Midas, Midas."
Whenever these kids are near the water, they're wearing life jackets.

Luke, one of the Dockside crew, loaned us his duck boat to go across the river for the New Year's Eve pot luck. Owen, Carmel, and Addie were fascinated by the "decorations" Luke used to camouflage the boat.  

On Friday, the day after New Year's Day, we made the short trip across the Carrabelle River to Dockside and back into the sling. In less than an hour, we were set, still in the sling, with a set of sturdy steps secured to the swim platform, AC power hooked up, and new boat neighbors.  On our starboard side was a 1955 vintage sailboat that clearly needed work. We learned from the previous owner that the boat was the first known fiberglass sailboat.  Captain Jerry had sold it to Norbert, a young man who works construction jobs in Maine during the summer and in Florida during the winter. He had his work trailer set up next to the boat, and he and Jerry worked together to sand the hull and paint it.  Norbert's dog Rascal and Midas soon became friends.  When the sailboat's paint job was done, it went back into the water and Jerry brought his old Marine Trader and his dog Francesca to Dockside, set up right next to us. His boat is older than Midas Touch and needs a lot of work - bottom paint, a new shaft, a reconditioned propeller, and lots of cleaning, to start with. At first, Jerry wouldn't allow Marian on board, telling us his boat is a "man cave" and not fit for a lady to see. Eventually, after Jerry did some inside clean up, we all went aboard, and we chipped in cole slaw from the IGA deli when Jerry treated the entire Dockside crew to a lunch-time cookout, with grilled hamburgers and hot dogs. 
Before a new shaft log could go in, the old one had to come out, and Mike began the laborious and messy job of chiseling out the cement that surrounded it. He spent most of the day one Sunday drilling and chiseling, and even when we hung a sheet across the doorway, the cement powder spread throughout the cabin. 

Midas with his chin on Mike's leg and his new Panama City pal Boudrea, a Hurricane Katrina survivor rescued by his current owner. 
The old shaft log, propped against the table in our temporary Dockside headquarters. A cell phone picture doesn't clearly show the tiny holes that allowed water to seep out of the log and into the hold of the boat. 

 Eric and his crew made us feel like family, and we wanted to do something to show our appreciation. Someone mentioned moonshine, and we knew what to do. Mike's brother Phil picked up a bottle from the Dawsonville Welcome Center and shipped it to us.  By now, we expect the bottle is empty. 

In our last post, Mike wrote about our extraordinary good fortune. Tim, who we had met on St. Catherine's Island, is now living in Carrabelle. He and his wife Lisa are friends with a couple we met when Mike helped Tamara take the Christmas lights off the small museum she runs. He showed up at Dockside on Sunday to offer us the use of his truck while we were on the hard. Tim and his wife Lisa were heading back to St. Catherine's for a few days and wouldn't need the truck. It was ours to use as long as we needed it. We made good use of it, too - doing laundry on the C-Quarters side of the river, provisioning at IGA, and even making a road trip to Apalachicola for the Oyster Festival. 
While we were waiting for the new shaft log to be fabricated and installed, Byron, Cynthia and Toots arrived. An unusually low tide had left the stern of their boat on the rocks at C-Quarters, damaging both props and creating a leak. Bright Angel does not have a swim platform like Midas Touch. The only way to get aboard was by climbing a ladder, so Byron, Cynthia and Toots spent a couple of weeks at a motel about a mile from Dockside.  The four of us could fit into the Ford Ranger with its two small jump seats for the short trip from Dockside to 2AL's for breakfast or from Dockside back to the motel.  

 2 AL's had great breakfasts and even better memorabilia. Remember Tinker Toys and Pick-up-Stix?
The folks at Dockside did everything they could to make our two week stay on blocks as pleasant as possible, even picking up the replacement TV we had to buy from BestBuy in Tallahassee and later picking up two big bags of dog food for Midas from Petsmart.  
Other than a brief delay to tighten the alternator belt, our Monday night-Tuesday morning crossing from Carrabelle to Dunedin was smooth, uneventful, and 20 hours long. After a few days of rest, provisioning at a nearby Publix (thanks to the dockmaster's generous loan of his truck), a pump-out, and laundry at Marker 1 Marina, we turned south again on Friday morning to St. Petersburg, where Looper friends from Delaware City to the Hudson River are spending the winter. They had emailed us before Christmas and asked us to let them know when we reached St. Pete, and we had a delicious dinner with them at 400 Bayfront. (Lon and Pat had turned north when they reached Grafton, IL to explore the upper Mississippi River. C.A.R.I.B.E. is winterized at a boatyard in Minnesota.)                                           
Midas and two of the other Golden Retrievers he met at the Farmers Market in St. Petersburg, where we bought his Anxiety Bandana.

 Plaza outside the theater in St. Petersburg where we saw Unbroken on a beautiful Sunday afternoon.
The cruise across the lower end of Tampa Bay got rough as the wind picked up, and waves were hitting our beam, causing us to roll as much as 15 degrees from vertical.  Drawers slid open, cushions fell off the settee, and items in the forward cabin fell off the bunks, but nothing broke.  When the water gets rough, especially when we roll instead of rock, Midas gets uneasy. Instead of snoozing contentedly on his bench, he pushes his nose between Marian's side and the upper helm wall, leaving little room for his mom.  Marian moved from the port to starboard bench, and Midas quickly followed.  He wants contact with one of his people.
We were in luck at St. Petersburg; the mooring ball reserved for us and a second one had been damaged when a much larger boat pulled up two mooring balls; we were able to stay at the dock at the same price, and spent three days enjoying the vital downtown area. On Saturdays, there's an open air Farmers' Market a few blocks from the marina, and fellow Loopers Shirley and Larry on We Wine a Lot, whom we had met in Columbus and Demopolis on our way down the Tenn-Tom and who had helped us dock on Friday, returned with rave reviews of home-made guacamole and other goodies.  Dolphin Project friends met us to enjoy the market, where we also invested in an anxiety bandana for Midas. The bandana has a small triangular pouch in the neck seam and came with a supply of dried lavender and other herbs.  It smells great, and it works! From the time that we both read Unbroken, recommended by Mike's nephew Roger, we've been eagerly anticipating the movie, which was still playing in St. Petersburg, and it was worth the wait. 
Midas on duty at the St. Petersburg Marina dock. He takes his duties as first mate seriously, especially when we are leaving a dock, docking, or anchoring. 
Midas also supervises computer work from one of his favorite spots when we're docked or anchored. 


 One of many beautiful sunsets on the Gulf of Mexico
Next stop - two days in Sarasota on a mooring ball at Marina Jack's, a very large and very nice marina on the edge of downtown. Shirley and Larry followed us from St. Pete but stayed at the dock, and  joined us for a visit to The Ringling, which is much more than a circus museum. John and Mable Ringling were world travelers and avid art collectors, and the 66-acre estate includes a world class art museum, the Ringling's winter home Ca' d'Zan (House of John), a fascinating Circus Museum, and the Bayfront Gardens. The complex also has an education center and the Hiatoric Asolo Theater, a performing arts center. The house is modeled after a Venetian villa, and Mable's 27,000 square foot Rose Garden contains more than 1,200 roses. Unfortunately, only a few were in bloom in late January. We toured the home and the circus museum, which includes the Wisconsin, John and Mable Ringling's private railroad car, and the Howard Brothers' Circus Model, the world's largest miniature circus, an amazing display which gave us a view of the day the circus came to town. Imagine moving 1,300 people plus all the animals by train every day, setting up multiple tents, feeding 1,300 people three meals a day, packing and unpacking props, costumes, scenery, 7,200 incredible logistical feat, with no computers to help keep up with the thousands of details. 
 Downtown Sarasota - the view from Midas Touch on mooring ball #98 in the harbor.
A few of our neighbors in the mooring field, with another view of downtown Sarasota behind them.
Below, the Admiral (Marian) and the Captain (Mike) on the bow of Midas Touch on a chilly Wednesday morning. We were ready to board the dinghy and go ashore for breakfast at First Watch, a Florida chain with another location in Fort Myers. Yummy food and juices.
Two of Mable Ringling's roses, blooming in late January.

 Two views of the Human Cannonball's truck, showing the cannon which propelled him into the air. One of the museum volunteers told us that he drove the truck to his home in Tampa during the off season so that he could practice by shooting himself across the street into a lake. After the mayor received multiple calls from passing drivers, asking about a man flying across the road, the city erected a sign:       Beware of Flying Men.                                                               

John and Mable Ringling accompanied the circus as it toured from the comfort of their private railroad car, which included a full-size bathtub and separate sleeping compartments for both. 

More circus memorabilia...the bicycle riding clown moves back and forth along a tightrope, suspended in front of the second story window to the lobby entrance.

Gallery along the north wing of the Museum of Art, taken late in the afternoon of our visit. By the time we got to the museum, all four of us were about "museumed out" and didn't spend much time viewing the paintings. The Museum deserves on entire day. The outside gardens are beautiful.

The Ringling winter home is modeled after a Venetian villa. On the left if the Court, which Mable Ringling wanted to leave the roof open to the sky, but the architect persuaded her that a roof was needed because it rains in southwest Florida. They compromised on the stained glass skylight in the picture below. This is the room where guests, including Will Rogers, gathered, and it contains large portraits of John and Mable; John's hand is in his pocket, and Rogers commented that it was the only time he had seen Ringling's hand in his own pocket. Ringling was involved in many businesses and was known for getting his friends to invest.

Late Thursday morning, after an excellent breakfast/lunch just a short walk from Marina Jack's, we disconnected ourselves from the mooring ball, using the dinghy to retrieve the second line that had slipped from Mike's hands as he tried to pull it out of the loop, and turned south to an anchorage at Englewood Beach. The sky was clear and the water was almost flat as we cruised down the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway, passing hundreds of huge homes and dozens of condos on the way.  Unlike our largely unspoiled and beautiful Georgia coast with its pristine barrier islands, the western coast of Florida is, in our opinion, over-developed. The secluded anchorages we enjoyed in Georgian Bay, the North Channel, and along the Tenn-Tom don't exist.  We found space in Englewood Beach, surrounded on three sides by more condos, two restaurants with loud music, and no easy place to get Midas ashore.  We found a small ramp at Flounder's, where Midas and Marian were able to get out safely while Mike tied up. We decided that Flounder's was too loud and didn't have a good place for Midas, so we checked next door, where the folks at the White Elephant welcomed him warmly; we found a table on their deck right next to the dock, and Mike went back to bring the dinghy over. After we split two appetizers - ribs and nachos - we dinghied back to the boat for the night. The next morning, we went to the same boat ramp; the tide was lower, and when she put her foot on what looked like wet sand, she discovered it was wet, very slippery dirt. Muddy jeans, muddy shoes (old ones, fortunately), muddy cuffs on jacket and shirt, but nothing injured except her dignity. While Midas took care of business, Mike tied up the dinghy and joined us.  The Englewood Beach parking lot is across the street from the restaurants, and it has a restroom where Marian could rinse off the worst of the mud.
Following the advice of the folks at Fish Tale Marina in Ft. Myers Beach, we took the outside route from Cayo Costa State Park after we cleared the south end of Sanibel Island. Ft. Myers Beach is on Estero Island, a barrier island covered with condos, hotels, and shopping centers. This sight really makes us appreciate the pristine beauty of most of Georgia's barrier islands: Wassaw, Ossabaw, St. Catherine's, Sapelo/Blackbeard, Wolf, and Cumberland.
 Midas and Marian had a good time exploring Cayo Costa State Park, a barrier island that has not been developed.

Unspoiled beach and dunes on the Gulf side of Cayo Costa. Dogs are not allowed on this beach, so it was back to the dinghy to move to the beach at the entrance to Pelican Bay, a popular anchorage. 

   Midas could run on this beach, chase his tennis ball Mike had tossed into the water with Chuck-it, and finally had a chance to swim.
With muddy clothes that needed washing, we needed to head to a marina for Friday night, and found Gasparilla Marina in nearby Placida. It has an excellent laundry, great showers, and a very good restaurant, where Shirley and Larry from We Wine a Lot, who had arrived a few hours after we did, joined us for dinner. As usual, Midas made friends with the dockmaster and conned him out of much more than his share of puppy cookies.  Midas adapts quickly to any place we go; it doesn't take him long to locate places to "get busy." Saturday morning, as usual, Marian took him ashore soon after she got up and fed Midas. Leash in her hand, they set off down the 200 yard dock toward the parking area and grass. Midas trotted ahead and was soon out of sight, turning off the dock toward land. Marian stopped by the TV room briefly to leave a couple of books she had finished, then started calling Midas frantically. He was not in sight, not in the area where we had taken him the night before, not anywhere in the large "barn" where boats are stacked four rows high, not anywhere along the road. The dock hand who had helped us tie up Friday got one of the golf carts to help look - no luck. Marian went back to the boat to tell Mike our dog was gone, Mike asked, "What's he look like?" and pulled Midas to the door.  He had returned to the boat on his own, and stood patiently at the upper helm window, looking in until Mike spotted him. Whew! 
We topped off the water tank, moved over to the fuel dock to take advantage of good diesel prices, and set off.  When we anchor out frequently, we tow the dinghy instead of securing it to the davits. As we started out through the narrow, shallow channel leading from the marina to the ICW, Mike shifted to neutral and went the swim platform to lengthen the line. Before we knew it, the wind had blown us out of the channel, and we were aground. Luck was with us as the tide was incoming. With Mike's skillful dinghy driving to push Midas Touch back into the channel and Marian at the helm to steer and "bump it," we were able to get off the shoal and back into the channel in record time. From Placida, it was on to our next anchorage, at Cayo Costa State Park. It was another beautiful day, warm but not hot, and we tied up at the dinghy dock and rode the tram to the other side of the island. Midas is not allowed on the beach, so we hiked along the road, then returned to the dock. One of the volunteer rangers told us Midas was allowed on the small beach near where we were anchored, and off we went, after picking up Chuck-It and a tennis ball from the boat.  Midas finally had a chance to swim, retrieving tennis balls.  Swimming in salt water means a bath, and that happened on the swim platform. We now have a clean, happy dog. 
We'd heard good things about Fort Myers Beach from our sailboat friends on Raptor, and Sunday morning, we were off anchor at 9:30 and cruising south past Captiva and Sanibel Islands and out into the Gulf for a 6.3 nautical mile run to the south end of Estero Island. Another tricky, narrow channel to Fish Tale Marina, tucked in between more condos. With help from two enthusiastic dock hands, we were soon secured in an alongside tie-up in what looked like too small a space for the boat, lines were dressed, shore power connected, and we headed to the ship's store to check in. Midas made more friends and gobbled down more dog biscuits, earned when he goes through his repertoire of salute, sit up, bow, and high five commands.  After feeding Midas, we set off for the nearby CVS to refill a prescription; we later returned to a very good Mexican restaurant in the strip center near the marina, then back to the boat for showers and Downtown Abbey. 
Condos and narrow canals across from the dock at Fish Tale Marina. The camera makes it look wider than it actually was.
Below, our stern/aft deck and the boat behind us, showing how narrow the canal is. With a "single screw and no bow thrusters," our refrain whenever we approach or leave a dock, Mike's skill at maneuvering Midas Touch was really needed. With coaching from several folks along the docks and on neighboring boats, several forward-reverse shifts and lots of wheeling, we turned 180 degrees and headed out of the canal. 

Mike's brother Phil and his best friend Larry have been following our adventure and checking out things to do near our destinations. Based on their recommendation, we decided to backtrack to Fort Myers and visit the Edison & Ford Winter Estates, which we did on Wednesday. Unlike the luxury of the Ringling mansion, the winter homes for the Edison and Ford families are relatively simple, obviously built for casual living and relaxation. The complex includes a museum highlighting many of Edison's inventions and Ford's early years in the auto industry, exhibits depicting the family's leisure activities - fishing and swimming in the first swimming pool in Fort Myers, musical evenings, and dancing. The two families were good friends, and Henry Ford thought of Edison as a valued mentor. Ford was an excellent dancer, and he and his wife helped revive some of the popular dances of earlier times, such as the quadrille.  There's a beautiful botanical garden, and specimen plants throughout the grounds: mangrove and banyan trees, exotic orchids and other Bromeliads, and a huge bougainvillea, to name only a few. One of the reasons Edison purchased the property was for its stand of mature bamboo, which could be carbonized and used as a filament in early incandescent light bulbs.  Edison experimented with a wide variety of plants, grown on his property, in his attempts to find a material that would burn for a long time. We were tempted to buy a potted sweet almond shrub, but where would we keep it on the boat?    
On the way to Fort Myers, we passed this bait shop in the Caloosahatchee River. It can't get much easier to get your fishing supplies than this.
 Our Curator/Historian guide at the Edison-Ford Winter Estates. She was a walking encyclopedia of the lives and times of the families and all of the plants in the botanical gardens. The Edisons named their home Seminole, and the Fords' home was called the Mangoes. Henry Ford was so saddened by the death of his friend and mentor that he could not bring himself to return to the winter home after Edison passed away.

There were several bougainvilleas on the estate, but this one probably holds a size record. It's probably multiple plants growing together because of the wide variety of colors, from the deep magentas in the photo to deep oranges and pale yellows to violet.
 Fountain on the Edison side of the estate.
One of the stands of bamboo in the Edison gardens, surrounded by other plants, some native to the area and some from other countries. Edison used carbonized bamboo as the filament in his early light bulbs.
 The Edison family pool, one of the first private pools in Florida. On the left, banana trees, which still bear fruit, were planted to provide a privacy screen. On the right, you can see the supports of the outdoor room where the family gathered. The building had showers and changing rooms. At the far end, there's a diving board platform, with the high dive about 12' above the water. Our guide told us the high dive was rarely used.
 The back side of the main house; Edison had wings built on both sides of the original house to expand the living space and later added a separate guest house. Unlike John and Mable Ringling, who had separate bedrooms in their Sarasota villa, Thomas and Mina Edison shared a bedroom in their winter home; although it had twin beds, they had three children. 

                                                                      The home had large, open rooms with floor to ceiling windows on both sides to allow plenty of air circulation. To the right and below, two views of the library and sitting room area. This is the space where Henry Ford and friends rolled up the rugs, moved out the furniture, and danced the nights away. 
 Edison called the light fixtures hanging in the library, living room and dining room Electroliers.  The kitchen, below, was separated from the main living area by a breezeway. Originally part of the main house, it was moved to the left wing of the home.

The Ford section of the property includes a garage with vintage cars, including a very early pickup truck and a Model A. The wooden cab and bed of the truck were added after the engine and chassis were complete. 

 Two Model T's - available in any color the buyer wanted, as long as it was black. We learned that Ford tested about a dozen different formulas for the black paint before finding just he right mix - not too shiny and fast-drying.
Edison's lab at the winter home was fully equipped, and he and his employees worked diligently on many projects. The original lab was moved to Menlo Park, New Jersey, and the lab shown on the right, located across McGregor Boulevard (U.S. Highway 41) from the homes, is a replica containing authentic equipment that would have been used in Edison's time.                                              
The statues of Thomas and Mina Edison are 1.5 times actual size; they weren't really that big. Thomas's statue is in front of a HUGE banyan tree, which has multiple roots. This is the tree that Edison planted when he originally purchased the property. Don't step on the roots.

The botanical gardens are amazing, especially the many varieties of orchids. Some of the photos below are orchids growing in clay pots, and they're for sale. Others are ephiphites, "plants that grows non-parasitically upon another plant, and derives their moisture and nutrients from the air, rain, and sometimes from debris accumulating around it instead of the structure it is fastened to." 
(Thank you, Wikipedia, for the definition.) The photos are large to do justice to the beauty of these spectacular flowers. But don't ask for the botanical names; we didn't write any of them down.


We like Fort Meyers so much that we decided to stay a week at the city-run Yacht Basin. Our slip is conveniently close to the laundry and showers, and we're within easy walking distance of the recently revitalized downtown area. We've checked out this weekend's art festival, made a provisioning walk, with our handy red wagon, to Publix, and connected with other Loopers here at the Yacht Basin. Tomorrow is Sunday, and we're looking at a favorable weather window for Monday, so we'll top off the water tank, vacuum and clean the cabin, maybe even defrost the freezer, install green (starboard) and red (port) transparency film on the insides of the running lights, re-stuff the bag that holds the rope for the block & tackle we use to haul in the dinghy, and generally prepare for an early departure for Naples and points south on our way to Marathon Key.