A week of some righteous sailing, but with stomach churning noisy rock & roll nights at windy unprotected anchorages was about all we could take. When Dolce Vento’s fatigued sailors docked at the Marathon Marina & Resort on Marathon Kay we were ready for a rest even though we were intoxicated by what we had experienced — miles of dazzling clear water, wind for sailing, incandescent sun and starry nights that Van Gogh would approve.
Calmed by the mangrove pond off the bow and mostly protected from the wind by Boot Key across from the marina, we were ready for a week of rest, relaxation at the saltwater pool, sight seeing trips to town, and eating out Keys style (e.g., bring your own fish and they’ll cook it for you). But, be careful about how you dress, flip-flops and tee shirts are required.
At 5:00 PM, we join other cruisers and live aboards at the marina to celebrate sunset. As the last rays fall below the horizon (technically as the earth turns to cover the rays), one of the guys puts down his beer to punctuate the sunset by blowing “the conch” (actually a hose that sounds like a conch shell horn) in perfect island style. It’s a lovely time to listen to sailing stories, tell a few of our own and share insights before wandering back to Dolce Vento to eat dinner. It truly is paradise for an hour or so, but then reality slapped us in the face once again with unexpected issues…geeky electrical problems.
If you care not to know about the problems and how we are fixing them, feel free to skip to paragraph “Not About Geeky Stuff”…
When the marina built their floating docks about a year ago, it had to meet new Florida regulations that dramatically stiffened the amount of boat electrical “leakage” allowed by any boat connected to shore power. (Older docks, floating or fixed, have been grandfathered in it seems, explaining why we’ve never encountered this problem before). With lots of boats in the same place at the same time, “leakage” can become dangerous because electrical charges from boat equipment can escape, hence, leak into the water, making falling into the water an electrical hazard for man and beast.
Simply put, Dolce Vento exceeded the allowable “leakage”. This prevented us from recharging her batteries using shore power. Astounded, we huffed a bit, then calmed down to discuss the problem with several local marine electrician technicians. Cindy ran some tests, learning that like many other cruisers, that the source of the leakage was our defective “leaking” inverter/charger.
The inverter/charger, an electrical device, takes in shore AC power and transforms it into 12 volt DC power so the batteries can be recharged while the boat is at rest. It also converts (inverts) DC battery power back to 110 AC power to run equipment like the fridge and freezer, outlets, water heater, TV, Microwave and HVAC systems.
Until the new inverter/charger arrives (Friday), we live without an inverter/charger. We’ll continue to use shore power directly, bypassing the batteries because we removed the defective inverter/charger. Luckily, only the water pressure, sump pump and the refrigeration system are powered only through the batteries so battery usage is low (I turned off the freezer, a big battery guzzler). Since our only reliable battery recharging source now is the diesel engine, we run it one hour/day. The wind generator is another power source we could use, but you need steady wind to power it and wind is not reliable at the dock.
But wait, there’s more! Our generator wouldn’t start the other night at anchor. Like shore power, the generator recharges boat batteries and enables you to run stuff that requires 110 AC power. The bugger stopped working on the trip down to Marathon. Cindy’s root cause diagnosis results are elusive. We replaced the five-year old generator starter battery, but that didn’t resolve the “won’t start” problem. Manuals were helpful, but not definitive, so after mucking about (testing stuff) she called the machine’s parents, Fischer-Panda, and received some solid guidance from their technicians. She’s narrowed it down to either a relay (inexpensive easy fix) or the secondary solenoid. Like a burst appendix, it requires a surgical removal job, and careful repairs once it’s removed. We’ll stay here until it is working again… all of it.
Not About the Geeky Stuff
As my regular readers know, Cindy, our systems tech crew person and good friend, wants move her career to someplace warn — Florida, Bahamas or Caribbean. Marathon and Key West/Stock Island are great possibilities, eliminating the need to wear a winter coat or trudging through snow and ice. Like Key West, Marathon is what folks around here call a “metropolis”. Lots of boats and boaters need riggers, systems technicians, marinas and dock workers to support them; and lots of vacationers need service people to support the resorts, hotels, shops, events and restaurants.
The aftermath of Hurricane Irma created both problems and an opportunities for Marathon and the surrounding keys. When the storm blasted through, people skedaddled after losing their homes. Stores, restaurants and other facilities closed. Marathon never recovered 25% of its population. Now, six months later, as boaters and vacationers are returning to their favorite winter haunts, there is a growing abundance of job opportunities in both industries. But the problem is housing — there is very little of it. Small homes, apartments, and mobile homes were devastated. Demand is high so rents are high. Even RVs are renting out at $1000-$1500/month. Some people have resorted to living on boats anchored off the marinas, getting by with very simply accommodations. There is good bus service between Marathon and Key West, but that’s about all. Cindy’s challenge is no longer finding a good job, it’s finding decent and affordable housing once she gets the job.
Weather, weather everywhere
It’s less than a 40 mile sail to Key West/Stock Island — a day sail. However, our month-long slip lease there doesn’t start until February 1 and we were scheduled to leave Marathon on January 28. We had devised a perfect Plan A –fill the time gap in a delightful anchorage in Newfoundland Harbor halfway to Key West/Stock Island. Cindy and John would fish, we’d dinghy about this rural area, John would grill dinner off the stern, and we’d enjoy living on the hook, Florida Key style.
However, we need a Plan B. Once again, the weather refuses to cooperate giving us 20+ knot easterly winds until February 2. It’s not about the sailing; it’s about having to hunker down in a somewhat unprotected anchorage once again to relive “rock & roll” on the water for three nights. Despite the fact I’m now an official a “Dead Head” because Cindy reintroduced us to the Greatful Dead, us old folks need our sleep! So, we’ve signed up for another week in Marathon and will sail to Key West/Stock Island when the weather becomes delightful again on February 2. We look forward to more sunsets on the dock, swims in the marina’s salt water pool and a happy hour that starts at 11:00 AM.
Paradise does have it limits. It’s time to have another Cheeseburger as Jimmy Buffet so musically recommends.