Tag Archives: FL

Back At It Again, Cruising, That Is

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Seeing Us Off

It’s amazing how a “few months” can turn into nearly two years.

We moved ashore this time of year (or so) in 2014. The plan was to get moved in and sorted out in time to return to the Bahamas in the Winter of 2015. OK, it wasn’t a plan so much as an idea. As ideas go it was butter sculpture. Things melt faster here.

What we hadn’t counted on was an underlying layer of burnout when it came to the boat. It was mostly driven by frustration with weather windows and the excessive amount of time spent in marinas. The local natural limitations on sailing (water depth and channel width*) and the lousy Florida attitude toward cruisers didn’t (and still doesn’t) help. *[Last year, we took the boat for a haulout and bottom job some 15 miles north of here. We ran aground in the marina channel five times. Inside the marina, we had to plow the keel through muck to get to the haulout slip which we couldn’t enter for several days. This was with the cruising guides and the marina owner assuring us six feet were available to the slipway.]

We almost went to the Bahamas this winter. We almost went to the Keys. Weather thwarted one and water depth the other. We talked about catamarans, centerboard boats and powerboats. None of those do anything for the Florida attitude which became legislatively worse this winter. Florida has criminalized anchoring in several locations and will, no doubt, add many more.

But the sailing itch was returning in a big way. The house and its surrounds are pretty much the way we want them. The boat is subjected to the Florida climate, day in, day out. We are still healthy and vigorous, but for how long?

So, We decided to give the Keys a look see for ourselves…and then friends with a sister-ship returned from there with a report that left us ambivalent (-). So, we decided we’d check out the Indian River Lagoon — where we learned to sail and race 43 years ago, where we live, where I volunteer. Kind of like taking a Sunday drive to see what’s changed.

We set a departure date. Hah!

The air conditioning cooling pump failed the day before we were to leave. I yanked the old one out and made some wiring changes dictated by the new one I had ordered online with premium shipping (ching, ching) which arrived on the same day non-premium would have. Of course, the mounting pattern didn’t match the old pump’s.

Then it was oops. We need to charge the bluetooth headsets we use when anchoring/docking. They failed to recharge, and three calls later I was told by the manufacturer “if they fail in warranty we replace them, if out of warranty, no repairs are available.”  They were about two weeks out of warranty. The dealer made good on this though. But they didn’t arrive in time for our departure, so we were back to hand signals.

A few nits and noys popped up and were dealt with in the longer wait for the pump.

Finally, off we went.

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Perfect Conditions

We sailed from Wabasso all the way to our Eau Gallie anchorage half the way north toward our destination — The NASA Causeway to watch a Falcon 9 launch. Janet refused to relinquish the helm, and the wind was perfect for a staysail and full main all day.

And then the anchor windlass failed. I would press the toe switch and maybe the anchor would go down (or up) and maybe not. Maybe waiting half a minute made a difference and mostly not. I got out the hand crank and discovered cranking a couple of links of chain almost always solved the problem. So it seems as if the motor has developed a dead spot. This would become problematic in a few days.

The Falcon was scrubbed, and we bid The Oehler’s on OUR DREAM (another sister-ship) adieu as they headed back north into what would become tropical storms Bonnie and Colin.

The next evening we watched the launch from a semi-sheltered spot farther south.

So far, the weather had been wonderful. Sailing breezes, warm days and open hatch nights with only a sheet needed from 0400 on.

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Not So Perfect Conditions

Then we anchored near Melbourne for our first squall line as daily thunder was back in the forecast at 80%. The anchor was well set, but the wind shift was 180 degrees and jumped from zero to 30kts. We gained enough momentum in the 200 feet we traveled on the shift to pop the anchor out of the bottom. Gorged with mud, it could not reset, and we were headed for causeway rocks. With the windlass unreliable, I jumped topsides and fired up the engine and motored us into the squall, balancing between over-riding the anchor chain and the damage that can do with not drifting into a field of crab pot floats and the possibility of getting caught up…all this while under a barrage of lighting, the closest about 500 feet off our bow.

It lasted 20 minutes. When done, the plotter track looked like a drunk had been playing with an Etch-A -Sketch. We put out more chain, a lot.

For the remaining days, the Florida Boomers went either north or south, and most evenings were punctuated with lightning flashes and distant rumbles.

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One of a dozen or so that rode our wake.

And so we spent 10 days out and about. We stayed north of Vero Beach because there is no there there for sailboats to the south in the Lagoon.

We are back to planning for the Abacos, and with no schedule it’s so much easier.

Did I mention the eleven year old microwave oven died on the first attempt to use it? (…and none of the replacements we can identify fit the space the old one went in.)

Or that something large and avian landed on our masthead wind indicator and destroyed it?

It’s a boat…

Florida Key-sine

We came, we saw, we ate. We can attest to Best Key Lime Pie, Best Conch Fritters, Best Fish, Best Breakfast. Best in these cases is from among the restaurants we sampled.

MrsMacsThe Best Key Lime Pie (as in since my grandmother passed away) was to be had at Mrs. Mac’s Kitchen — the small one on the north side of US 1 heading west in Key Largo. The welcome was vocal, as in every staff member in sight, and real. We decided to make our late lunch an early dinner, and Janet had fish and shrimp done fish and chips style with excellent sweet potato fries (just the right ratio of soft and crunchy.) My fish was smothered in relleno sauce and graced with just enough cheese — not swimming in it. The black beans and rice were tasty. We both had mahi/dolphin/dorado, and for me it was a bit over-cooked, but then I am super-picky about fish. The food police have pretty much driven restaurant cooks to ruin it, and when I ask for it something less that DONE, I expect government types and lawyers to descend (ala Alton Brown’s dilemma).

KLPie

Sign is not broken, camera lens captured the natural pulsation of Neon.

And then came the PIE. Light yellow, check. Custard base, check, Dense and smooth, check, Perfectly sour-sweet, check. No whip cream, OK I had to ask for that part. Otherwise a perfect piece of KLP! All comments about fish cookery aside, we would consider Mrs. Mac’s a must return.

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Lazy DaysThe Best Conch Fritters were at Lazy Days in Islamorada. Before we reached Lazy Days on day two, we had gotten them that were too browned, conch too tough, diced pickles in the fritter batter*, almost no conch, and raw in the middle. At Lazy Days they were golden, soft, fully cooked with tender conch and just the right bite of spice. Lazy Days also provided us with excellent fish that was closer to properly cooked. My grouper came with a bit of bacon and cheddar on top as a sandwich. I don’t care for grilled fish sandwiches. The bread soaks away the juices. Janets’ mahi/dolphin/dorado was very lightly tempura-ed and gently fried. In both cases, our sweet potato and regular fries were deemed worth saving for breakfast hash. The SPF were particularly good.

FishTalesThe award for Best Fish in an entree role goes to Fish Tales in Marathon. This is a fish market with tables. My blackened grouper was beautifully seasoned and over-cooked — not just by my standards,  but I’m sure the food police would be handing out an “A.” My black beans and rice were tasty but came out as the last glob from the pot — probably because we ate late. Janet’s fried grouper was what snagged the best award. It was melt in your mouth moist and obviously fresh.. Not only that she liked the slaw, ordered it double and had some of mine. The award for best performance of fish in a spread also goes to Fish Tales. Made of salmon mahi/dolphin/dorado, mackerel, and (I forget) and seasoned with a variation on the blackening spice and with only enough binder to bind, this stuff was GRRReaaaat (I miss Thurl Ravenscroft).

HarriettesWe like diners, especially those in touch with what diners used to be, pre-franchising. Harriette’s is one of those. The menu was comprehensive. Pretty much everything is cooked to order. The ingredients are obviously fresh. The service is honest, helpful and friendly. The place is tiny and often has lines at the door. My spicy beef omelet was not spicy by my terms, but I am sure others would have found it so, but it was hot, fresh and delicious and served with a quarter-acre biscuit.and local honey. Janet’s fry up was an old standby for diners and executed perfectly. With beverages, our Best Breakfast (we ate at noon) was under $20 for two.

lsAnd then, drum roll, there were Harriette’s Key Lime Muffins, 5+ inches in diameter, with a bank of confectioner’s sugar drifted across the top, they are delicate and limey until one reaches the core which is almost a key lime curd. We don’t believe we have ever had a dessert muffin quite this good ever before. We split one while there and brought one home for breakfast the next day. We are thinking of suggesting a monthly subscription service.

There are plenty of places to eat in the Keys, they run from shacks to jackets required. Neither aspect will tell you much about the food. but this is where the Internet shines if you can spot the trolls and sock-puppets among the reviewers — too good or too bad is usually a tip-off. Lots of vehicles parked out front, in back and barely off the road isn’t much of a tip-off. DUI may be illegal, but restaurants without bars, or at least plenty of beer, pretty much don’t exist. If you see a lot of vehicles, check an online rating service — is it the food. or is it the happy hour?

* A UN Violation.

Happy, Clubby Birthday

poloIn 4+ decades as adults, we have dined in many places under many circumstances. Our standard criteria have become “would we serve this to guests, could we have done this better, and were we comfortable?” For us to be pleased it has to be a Yes and a No and a Yes. Polo Grill wins on all counts.

No hunting for the reservation on arrival. Best booth in the place. Service with a club-like pace and grace. Generous pours on the drinks and a better than average selection of wines by the glass. Menu well varied and well complimented by specials.

My included Caesar was available with anchovies, hand cut and culled romaine and at just the right size. My wife’s included iceberg wedge was right sized and she says it had the best blue cheese she could remember.

She had the trout almondine and I the pompano special. The asparagus was crispy, the rice was tender, well seasoned and didn’t overwhelm the plate. The carrots… well I don’t like them so I can’t say. My wife said they were “well flavored.”

Dessert was a complimentary serving of mango sorbet (from a selection). It was delicious, nicely sized and accompanied with a peppermint patty.

Without drinks and appetizers, dinner was under $100 before tip. We enjoyed the place for about 2 hours and never felt pushed to give up the table. All told, after years of dining at Morton’s north-to-south, coast-to-coast, we would give Polo Grill the edge.

The Key’s to It All

Nervous Iguana at Boca Chica

Nervous Iguana at Boca Chica

I’ve been working on the manuscript of another novel pretty much since the last post here. Only have so many keystrokes in me per day, so the blog has been riding in the dinghy on a long painter.

This week we took a break (never turned the laptop on) in the Florida Keys checking out anchorages, and marinas prior to deciding whether to take Brilliant Star down there. It was great weather (actually, the same as at home in Vero). Friendly people. Great Food. Decent hotel with (gasp) tolerable prices. More about the food in coming posts. The issue in the Keys is depth, depth, depth. We draw just enough that sheltered anchorages are few in prevailing winds on the Hawk Channel side (south). Since marinas are full, this puts us traveling in worsening weather (more thunder, more heat) later this spring. Still think we’ll go, just haven’t thought out the details yet.

NoAnc

200 foot setbacks to destroy limited available anchorages

This trip came as the hateful and greedy along Florida’s waterways have introduced a Bill to destroy anchoring out in Eastern Florida pretty much as predicted here and in many other blogs. There is no reason to believe they won’t succeed this time since they have a whole session to correct the blundering blunderbuss approach they took last session; still, the demonization of cruisers continues.

Since marinas and mooring field owners have a vested interest in killing off anchoring,  and having attended the public FWC sessions regarding this in the past months, we don’t have a lot of hope this situation will end up in respectful compromise.

Coming Up, Mrs. Mac’s, Fish Tales, Lazy Days, and Harriettes.

Maison Martinique (Caribbean Court Boutique Hotel)

hibiscus-booths-diningWe started the evening in the Havana Night Piano Bar where the comfortable seating was taken, but we still enjoyed it. It was nice to decompress from the 5.4 mile drive from our house in no traffic. (Turn in the second parking lot entrance.)

This was an early Valentines Dinner and we’ll return. Maison Martinique has had some issues lately, but it has them well in the past now. Between us, we had the shaved Brussels sprout salad with bacon vinaigrette, Black lentil soup with chorizo. Duck breast, and a giant (8 oz) lump crab cake with almost zero filler.

We added a nice Cadaretta Sauvignon Blanc. We finished with chunky mango sorbet and a dark chocolate mini-muffin with a small scoop of vanilla ice cream. What should have been hot was. All items were freshly flavorful and well spiced. (Our server was surprised when he asked me if I wanted ground pepper for my soup, and I asked him to wait while I tasted it. He said it was something rarely seen!) Now to be a tiny bit picky. I prefer my duck sliced as medallions, this came out as two spears(?). Also, I couldn’t transfer my bar bill to the restaurant. That’s it. I said a tiny bit.

Our friendly, attentive, well-paced server, Daniel was excellent We had a circular high backed banquette, complete with throw pillows, in the Hibiscus room (left above). Essentially it was private dining. What patron and staff traffic there was was discreet. We didn’t feel on display nor annoyed. Altogether a very nice experience.

Give them a try. Maison Martinique opens at 5:00 pm Thursday through Saturday

Sometimes a Dessert of Words is Enough

HabanaCafeSaw this (below) in the Habana Cafe in Gulfport, Florida last night, after a great meal. Food was spot on. Service was excellent. Dinner lasted three hours. Table was ours. Less than $100 for four pre-tip! Bought the cook book; oh,yeah.

“An indulgence that alleviates stress is often a better choice than a sacrifice that creates tension.”