After a night in a hotel in Homestead, about 2 hours away from Marathon, we pulled into the boat ramp parking lot around 11am. We chose one on 33rd street on Marathon's Gulf side, based on recommendations from others in the area. The ramp was wide and deep – just what we needed. We pulled into a parking spot opposite the ramp and began quickly assembling the essential equipment to get Orion Jr seaworthy. Unlike the launch in Clearwater, we would need to travel about 5 miles to get to the harbor, moving from the gulf side of Vaca Key where Marathon sits, around its western end under both 7-mile bridges and around into the Boot Key harbor. That meant we would need a chartplotter, VHF, and working instruments, as well as the outboard and anchor ready to go. We also would need the dinghy as soon as we anchored, so it had to be set up and ready to tow behind Jr. Cathy worked inside the boat and on deck, extracting fenders, lines, anchors, and making enough room down below that we could get into the Main Saloon at least. Dave worked outside mounting the motors and getting the dinghy and gin pole off the trailer, and removed the straps. He also rigged our temporary mast on deck to allow us to have VHF and an anchor light overnight the first night. The big mast would stay down for this first leg, since that would allow us to travel under the far eastern end of the 7-mile bridge, saving several miles of travel.
It was a hot, breezy day while we were doing this work. But this time we had thought ahead and water was available and being drunk. By early afternoon, we decided we were ready to launch. We positioned the lines so that we had access to them and Dave began backing Orion Jr on her trailer into the water. Although the ramp area was empty when we started, it was just our luck that 3 different boats began motoring into the channel as we began the process. We weren't at high tide, but close to it. And we didn't know exactly where the ramp ended, but Dave backed up as far as he dared without risking the trailer wheels falling off the end. At that point, Cathy was positioned aft with the lines in hand. He released the winch and began letting her ease back into the water. She appeared to be floating, so Cathy held the lines as he began pulling the truck and trailer forward.
We quickly launched the dinghy (with the gin pole inside) and secured it behind Orion Jr. With the fuel system primed, the chartplotter and instruments on, we were ready to cast off and head out the channel. It hadn't been a great launch, but we were underway.
The big question we had about our trip around the island was where to pass under the the 7-mile bridges. The main center span is clearly marked, but the channel between Vaca and Knight Key is not well-marked at all. We called the marina and they said to look for yellow markings on the spans where we would pass through. As we approached, there were no yellow stripes visible. We called over to a power boat, who said we could go through any span. At that point, we saw a fisherman pass through and we went back to follow his path. We were caught a little by suprise by the fast-flowing current. With our little 9.8 Nissan, we had to pull away from the bridge to get a better approach angle. And the two bridges' abutments, along with the power line poles don't all line up exactly, so it was a bit like an obstacle course. At any rate, after that excitement, it was a pretty uneventful trip into the harbor.
Now, to attend to things on shore.
The trailer couldn't stay where it was overnight and it was too late to make arrangements with a storage lot. We finally took a leap of faith (literally?) and called the Methodist Church we attend while here. They were gracious enough to let us park it in their lot overnight. Whew! After that we registered as number 20 on the waiting list for a ball and took a shower. Needless to say, we slept well that night.
The next day, our first priority was to put the trailer in a storage lot and arrange for her repair. We made arrangements with the dealer across the street from the marina where we had purchased the trailer, and used his hose to rinse the saltwater off the trailer. That done, we headed back to the boat. We were going to have calm, sunny weather and we needed to get the mast up, so we could raise the bimini and mount the solar panels. This would give us much-needed shade and the solar power to start the refrigeration. (And we would stop whacking our heads on this big metal pole.) We made fewer mistakes this time and managed to get the mast up in less than 3 hours. The main thing we learned this time was that we needed to completely remove the bimini supports from the deck before raising or lowering the mast. They make it difficult to get the angle right to set the pin in the base of the mast.
By late afternoon, we had the bimini and enclosure in place and the solar panels mounted and wired in. We decided we were set up enough to start the freezer just before heading to shore for showers. As we returned after dark, Dave pulled out the generator to put some amps into the batteries to hold them for the night's draw. To his dismay, each time he plugged the power cord into the boat, the fuse to the new battery charger blew. Dave decided he would need to bypass the sub-panel and use heavier gauge wire, as the main battery fuse would now provide the fuse protection. To do this easier in the dark, Cathy crawled into the locker to get better access to the charger. Between us, the wires were upgraded and the charger worked without further incident. Now, we could have some supper and relax. (Note: As we reviewed this story, we discovered that the REAL problem was that Dave thought he had a 30-amp fuse in place. And Cathy informed him that she was giving him 15-amp fuses, because that's what blew initially. Ooops.)
Throughout all this prep and set-up, we had been trading a cold back and forth. Dave's arrived on his birthday, causing him to drag throughout the initial launch. As Cathy crawled out of the cockpit to fix supper, she took the cold over for the next couple of days. Since there seemed to be something like this bug moving around the harbor, we kept our socializing to a minimum until it passed.
However, our cozy anchoring spot became a little too tight after the winds shifted to the north and increased. We've never been so close to a neighboring boat. We could have reached down and touched the anchor rode on our neighbor with a boat hook. We stayed on the boat until we were sure we were swinging away from our neighbor with another wind shift. However, we were too close and decided we had to move, which we did the next day. The calmer winds caused boats to leave, opening an area that seemed to work for us. As usual, it took several attempts to get it just right. We held fine during the next blow, and managed to get a mooring before any more high winds came along.
We stumbled into some new offerings shortly after arriving. The Friday of our first weekend, Marathon Yacht Club had an open house, which was an opportunity to meet some of their members over some amazing hor d'ouvres. Our friend, Dick on Tarwathie was making his acting debut in a reading of Neil Simon's play, Chapter Two the next weekend. It was a great night, with some good laughs. The next day, we volunteered at a Family Fun Festival for the community in the City Park next door. There was free food, performing groups, games, and free give-aways. We pet a pelican, scheduled a boat safety inspection with the US Coast Guard Auxiliary, helped judge a scavenger hunt and got a free bike helmet. Dave also re-connected with Augie, who told of his progress over the past year in making connections with Cuban pastors. Oh, and did we mention there was free food? Hot dogs, pizza, popcorn, homemade cakes, pies. Cathy even answered a bible trivia to get a small guava pie. We earned our keep, though, helping set-up and take down all the tents. Dave taught one person to tie a taut-line hitch, which he said he would use from now on.
Pretty busy for just a couple of weeks here.
We accomplished a few boat projects in the midst of our other activities. Cathy did some sewing work to modify someone else's discarded cover for the brake controller on the trailer. She also made some modifications to the generator cover to make it easier to secure the generator to a cleat when the cover's in place. Dave made yet another dinghy light support structure. Each iteration gets us closer to perfection, it seems. And with some lessons learned, we started marking the shroud connections with colored tape, to make it easier to re-assemble when we remove them. Anything that makes that process easier will be greatly appreciated.
We've seen the manatees more this year. This mother and baby was wondering through the dinghy dock one day and stayed put for a picture.