The Big Belch

On Saturday, March 9th we left the Key West Mooring field and headed out, despite the fact that we had lost more lower unit fluid. Something was still amiss, but we couldn’t determine where the fluid was going. There was no evidence of leakage outside the boat.

We went around Key West to the Atlantic side and found the Hawk Channel, which is about 3 to 5 miles out, and is the only access to many of the Keys. There was a moderate chop, which was tossing us around plenty, until we slowed down to about 10 knots. It was a 40 mile run to Big Pine Key, but we made it without mishap to the Newfound Harbor Channel, then to the Pine Channel. Very shallow water and few markers made it a little difficult, but passable. Once in the Pine Channel we had to find our way to an opening which lead to the canals in the Basavage neighborhood. A low fixed bridge was our next hurdle, but we made it under after lowering the antennae, clearing by a mere 5″. Good thing it was not high tide.

Travis and Lydia
Travis & Lydia – Boat in Canal

Travis welcomed us again, but had to go to work, so we babysat the kiddos. Jim gave Dawson and Corinne a ride in the dinghy. We had dinner, cleaned up a little, and gave Lydia a bath. It was a fun evening hanging out with a much younger generation, and a great place to be with the boat.

Dinghy Ride in the Canal

We spent the next 2 days cleaning up the boat, doing laundry, and trying to determine what was causing the lower unit to leak oil.  Jim changed the oil on the generator, and did some other much-needed maintenance.

Tuesday morning at 7:00 Charles Robinson, a friend of Travis & Kate’s, took us to go reef fishing aboard the Marathon Lady.  Charles originally hails from Philadelphia, but has been here in the Keys for 20 years.  A good samaritan, he pulled over to give some stranded motorists a jump along the way.

Charles & Jim

Charles & Jim

Marathon Lady - Birds Gulping Down Filet Remains
Marathon Lady – Birds Gulping Down Filet Remains

It was very reminiscent of a Lake Mille Lacs launch, except we were catching ocean fish instead of walleye.  I managed to hook a little grunt, but others caught snapper, grouper, sharks, eels, porgy, and mackerel.  We’re learning a little more about the fishing process here as we go along.  A chum bag is tied to the stern of the boat, usually full of squid, which attracts other fish.  Our bait was mullet giblets (good for catching yellow tail) or cut-up pieces of needle fish or other bait fish.  We used open bail reels on our rods, and everyone was lined up around the railings of the main level decks, fishing off the bottom along a reef in about 30 ft of water.  The seas were rocking us around with their 6′ swells; one poor chap got seasick and spent the entire morning horizontal and in the fetal position.

Aboard the Marathon Lady

Aboard the Marathon Lady

The crew will filet your catch for $1.00 per 3 fish, so that’s what we opted for.  Since Charles is a regular Tuesday customer aboard the Marathon Lady, he was given fish from some of the folks who didn’t want to bring their catch with them.  The next evening he cooked up a fabulous fish fry, but would not give up the secret for his delicious breading.  All I got out of him was that he used flour, corn meal, and red pepper flakes.

Part of the Morning's Catch
Part of the Morning’s Catch

Tuesday evening Travis & Kate went to Key West for a friend’s wedding reception.  We babysat the kids again, and man were we pooped out!  Getting up early, fishing in 6′ swells, the salt air, and the high energy level of young kids was almost more than we could handle!

Wednesday Jim found someone to work on the boat.  I was a little skeptical, as Kirk who owns and runs ‘Slack Off Marine’ was to be our mechanic.  He lives and runs his business on No Name Key, which besides having no name, also has no electricity or running water.

In order to have work done to the boat we had to drive it back through the canals and into and across the Pine Channel.  We left at low tide, but were unable to clear the little fixed bridge, so came back to the Basavage canal wall.  Jim removed the radar dome on top of the radar arch, and we made another try, this time clearing the bridge by 2″.  Kate gave us a ride back to their place.

Feeling a little like homeless vagrants again without our boat, we hung out at the Basavage’s.  They were kind enough to put us up again for 2 nights in a cozy bed with yummy hot showers, and the comforting chaos of a young family.

Travis & Kate - Modeling my hats
Travis & Kate – Modeling my hats
 

Thursday morning Brian & Deb Christensen, and Charlie (their beloved wiener dog) picked us up and took us on a great tour.  First we went to the ‘Blue Hole’ where I finally saw my first alligators!!!

My First Gator in the Wild - Blue Hole on Big Pine Key

My First Gator in the Wild – Blue Hole on Big Pine Key

'Blue Hole' Alligator

‘Blue Hole’ Alligator

Blue Hole is a fresh water sinkhole created during the railroad days in the middle of the National Key Deer Refuge.  The endangered Key Deer are only found here, and you can’t help but see them along the roadways, especially in the morning and at dusk.

From there we drove to the Bahia Honda State Park, which boasts one of the few natural beaches in the Keys.  We walked a long stretch on beautiful sand with washed up shells, sponges and seagrass.

Then we hiked up to the beginning of the old 7-mile bridge, now only for pedestrians, with its amazing panoramic views.

Bahia Honda State Park Beach

Bahia Honda State Park Beach

Bahia Honda Beach

Bahia Honda Beach

 

The Old 7-Mile Railroad Bridge

The Old 7-Mile Railroad and Highway Bridge

Lunch was at Cabana Breezes on Key Colony Beach.  The Christensen’s honeymooned there 33 years ago, and have been back numerous times throughout their years together.

Deb, Charlie & Brian Christensen (Paul's Island behind them)

Deb, Charlie & Brian Christensen (Paul’s Island behind them)

Next we played a surprise visit to Don and Buffy, in-laws to Brian’s best friend, Pat Cody.  Jim’s met Cody playing golf in the past.  Avid boaters themselves, we had a lively conversation and beers on their lanai.  A few years back they started the loop in their 34′ Sea Ray, only to be hit by a barge while anchored out and asleep in the Ohio River.  Originally hailing from Alexandria, MN, they now make their home on Boot Key. We would have paid them a visit in the near future, but they left this morning for Aruba to meet up with their vacationing children and grandkids.

We drove by our boat (out of the water) on the way back, but were disappointed to see that it was still missing its lower unit.  Kirk did a compression test, and informed us that it was leaking oil into the bellows.  Apparently Snook Bight in Fort Myers Beach did not install the lower unit seal properly.  I guess our problem was a little bigger than a ‘burp’!

This morning we awoke to some great news!  The boat was back in the water and ready for us to pick up (a mere $545 plus $166 to take the boat out and purchase a new cooler).  Kate gave Jim, Travis and me a ride on her way to drop Lydia off at daycare.  We cruised back to the canal, under the bridge (a good 5″ of clearance this time), and back to the Basavage residence.

Homeless Pat - Dangling Feet over Canal Wall
Homeless Pat – Dangling Feet over Canal Wall

Jim spent the rest of the day wrenching on the dinghy again, getting the new swivel (the Weaver Lever) working, installing the motor support, cleaning out the engine compartment, and putting in a beefier stabilizer bar.  I did laundry again, some needed housekeeping, assisted Jim when he required more than two hands, and got our food and clothes back on board and organized.

We are so grateful to the Basavage family, who’ve opened their home to us whenever we needed it.  But we’ve plotted our course to Marathon, where we will get a mooring ball and spend a few days.  A light to medium chop is in the forecast for tomorrow, and I’m really looking forward to be on the move again!

The last of the Everglades voodoo is behind us (I hope)…  No more burps, hiccups, or belches.  Just smooth sailing for a while would be a nice change of pace.  ARiverDerci!

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