Calumet Dreams
Chapter 14

January 2 - January 23
Manatee Baby * Lake Okeechobee * Ash Snow * Sea Kid's Six * Running Aground * Cyberdragon * Kid's Sailboat * Candy Canes * Japanese Mitzi * Dinghy Races * Autopilot * International Soccer Game * Solar Power * Hot Showers Back to Home Page

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Day 165 - Monday, January 2
Tied to Dolphin Poles outside Moore Haven Locke, Florida
Mile 77 on the Okeechobee Waterway


Cattle Drinking at River's Edge
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Cattle Drinking at River's Edge
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Tony and Micki left early in the morning. We took off a few hours later.

We went through Ortona Lock. Some people were watching us lock through, and as we were leaving they shouted to us to watch out for the manatee. I told them that we were being careful, but we hadn't seen any manatee yet. They said they had been watching three of them just outside the lock gate. We were startled, but they said we shouldn't worry because they are down very deep. We never did see them.


Tug and Crane/Barge in Lock
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In a few hours we caught up with Tony and Micki. We went through Moore Haven lock together. After we got through the lock, Tony was anxious to get some more diesel for his engine because he had been running it all day. We located a gas dock on our radio and he went off to fuel up while we tied ourselves to the dolphins outside of the lock. Dolphins are stacks of giant poles that are securely embedded into the river bottom. We securely tied ourselves between two poles and when Tony and Micki came back, they tied off to our boat. It turns out that they had only needed a gallon of diesel. They couldn't believe that they had used so little fuel after a whole day of boating. They were still in their powerboat mentality.

We were now on the edge of the Okeechobee River, in a canal that ran along the southern shore. It was a very eerie place because all of the trees on the land barrier were dead and hundreds of turkey vultures were sitting in them. It looked like a scene right out of the Wizard of Oz. We were waiting for the flying monkeys to swoop down and carry us away.


Creepy Trees and Birds at Okeechobee
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Close-up of Creepy Birds
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Tony and Micki came over to our boat to share dinner. They brought beef stew and we had tortillas (they were so cheap in LaBelle that we had to buy a big bagful). It turns out that they are both avid naturalists. Tony used to work as an oyster fisherman in Apalachicola. Now he and Micki are commercial painters and they do a lot of fishing in their spare time. They gave Zion some tips on how to catch the local fish and they gave me some tips on how to cook them.

Tony also told us about his snorkeling adventures. He said we will enjoy the Bahamas, but we have to watch out for the red fire grass. It burns! He likes to ride nurse sharks by grabbing onto their back fin. He just has to be careful if they try to roll over because then they try to get him. And nothing hurts as much as letting a big stone crab grab your thumb with his claw. He would rather let a truck run over his thumb than let that happen again.

Tony and Micki are also great naturalists. They are very fond of manatees. They said they have never seen one that didn't have scars on its back from propellor blades. Tony says they are smarter than people think, because they can recognise his fishing boat. Whenever he goes out to a favorite spot, the manatee come up to him. They like to have the algae rubbed off of their skin. He says they know if you missed a spot, because they will present it until you get them all clean. One day when they were driving over a bridge, Micki saw a bleeding manatee in the water below. She pulled off the road and when down the river bank to help, thinking that the manatee had been cut by a boat. Instead, she found out that the manatee was giving birth. She was actually able to hold the baby manatee after it was born.


Sunset
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We made plans to motor across the lake together the next day. We let them borrow our handheld radio and GPS so we could stay in touch during the crossing.

Day 166 - Wednesday, January 3
Indiantown City Park, Florida
Mile 23 on the Okeechobee Waterway

We took off early in the morning. With luck, it would take six hours to cross Lake Okeechobee. The lake is at a record low because of the drought that has been in the area for the last two years. When the lake is high you can follow the southern edge of the lake, but that channel is too shallow now. We will have to follow the channel across the middle. Our destination is Port Mayaca lock on the east side of the lake.

It was cool out, but sunny and windy. We had to motor through the channel at first because it did a lot of winding around shoals. But once we got to the open water we were able to put up our sails and cut our engine. We noticed a few smoke clouds on the horizon. We guessed that it was sugar cane fields being burned.

Because of the low water level, the locks were on a reduced schedule. They would only open every two hours, and we heard that some had cut back to every four hours. We expected to wait once we reached Port Mayaca, but we got lucky and reached it just as the light turned green. We didn't have to wait a second, we just went inside. This lock on the east side of the lake lowered us. The other locks on the west side of the lake had all raised us up.

We continued down the waterway. We were planning to stop at Indiantown Marina, the next town along the way. But it was full so we kept going. We ended up anchoring off the channel next to Indiantown City Park. Tony and Micki tied up to us again.

Tricia captained the dinghy and rowed Micki and I to shore so we could enjoy the flush toilets in the park. The park also had a playground and some big rodeo corrals surrounded by bleachers. Micki said that rodeos were popular around here and the national championships are often held nearby.

I am just amazed by the variety of cultures that we have come across in Florida. There were the military people in Pensacola, the small commercial fishermen in Apalachicola, the big city people in St. Petersburg/Tampa Bay, the ritzy people on Captiva Island, the retirees of Fort Myers, the farmers in LaBelle, and now the cowboys of Indiantown. And wherever you are, you can always find some footloose sunseekers around. And we haven't even been to the east cost yet!

We shared supper again. We provided chili dogs, and Micki brought over some beefaroni. We learned that Tony and Micki lived in Orlando and one of their relatives was Snow White at Disneyland. Tony has been there at least fifty times. (You don't want to hear his story about the day that Space Mountain opened unless you have a strong stomach.) We also learned that Tony had helped paint the landing pad for the space shuttle. They both said we should try to see a space launch when we travel up the east coast in spring. If you are on a boat you can actually get closer to the launch site than the people on land can get. We'll certainly try to do it if the schedules work out right.

Day 167 - Thursday, January 4
St. Lucie Lock Recreation Area, Florida
Mile 15 on the Okeechobee Waterway

Today Tony and Micki were happy because they were almost home. We said good- bye and went our separate ways.

When we reached St. Lucie Lock, we found that they had a recreation area for campers and boaters. They had HOT SHOWERS! so we paid $16 to spend the night on their dock.

Since the recreation area was right alongside the lock, the big entertainment was to stand on top of the lock and watch the boats go through. This was the first time that we had the chance to see a lockage from the top. It was fun to watch. The big gears that turn the gates are quite impressive. Now I can understand why people sometimes wave at us and talk to us from the top. It's a fun and easy thing to do. When you're down inside the lock you hear the roaring of the water and you're always anxious about handling your boat through. Chit-chat isn't on your mind as much down there.

We took a hike through the woods. Zion happily collected 17 golfballs that he found washed up along the shores of the waterway.

We met the couple in the boat next to us on the dock. They were from Germany. They were amazed that we were allowed to take our children out of school to go with us on this journey. That would never be allowed in Germany.

Day 168 - Friday, January 5
Stuart, Florida
Mile 6 on the Okeechobee Waterway

In the morning we viewed the Visitor's Center at the lock. We saw a video on the history of the Okeechobee Waterway. In the early part of the century, land developers worked on draining the local swamplands into the Okeechobee so there would be more land for homes and farming. Then they had to develop the locks for flood control. Today Lake Okeechobee supplies the fresh water for all of the major metropolitan areas in southern Florida, like Tampa, St. Petersburg and Miami. Because of the importance of maintaining a good, clean water supply there is now a plan for restoring the surrounding wetlands to the way they were before man interfered.

The Center also had several large, elaborate model boats. One was a model of a Chinese junk. It had been confiscated from a boat in a drug raid, and they thought that putting it on display would be better than letting it sit on a warehouse shelf somewhere.

The guide at the Center pointed out the spot on the far bank of the river where the big fourteen-foot alligator liked to sit in the sun. We never saw him, though, because it was a cold day.

At three o'clock we went through the lock and headed east again. We only had to travel two hours to get to our destination, Stuart. Stuart is on the eastern cost of Florida. Dan had ordered some parts from West Marine and had them forwarded to their Stuart store which is right on the river and easy to get to in a boat.

Just as we were preparing to go through the lock, the sky started looking very eerie in the west. It wasn't like an ordinary dark storm cloud that would block out the sun and make everything dark. This dark cloud let the sun shine through, and the sun shone in dazzling colors. It was like the color of a sunset, but it was still high in the sky. It shed a golden light on the water. The Germans didn't know what it was, but we knew. It was the smoke cloud from the burning of the sugar cane fields. This one was huge, and covered everything. We told them that their would be ash falling out of the sky soon. I don't think they believed us.

About half an hour later the ash hit. At first it was just a bit, but then it started coming down thicker and thicker. It looked like a snowfall. The black and gray ash collected in little piles in the corners of our boat. It was all very weird. The smoke also blocked out the heat of the sun and it got considerably colder. Now we know what nuclear winter would be like. No thanks!


Ash Snow - Daytime Sunset
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Ash Snow Closeup
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As we motored down the river channel through Stuart, we notice a big boat anchored in one of the coves. The boat was called "Sea Kid's Six" and it was flying a Canadian flag. We had to stop! We put down our anchor for the night right next to them.

Dan and Tricia took the dinghy over to introduce ourselves. They came back with lots of stories and the names and (approximate) ages of the six kids: Sebastian (15), Frederic (14), Normand (13), Agathe (11), Loulou (9) and Catherine (8). The papa is Ivan and the mama is Renee. The family has lived on their boat for two years. They will be staying in Stuart for awhile. They were in the Bahamas last year. Now they are on their way to Fort Myers. The Ivan, Sebastian and Normand know English pretty well. But most of the time they all speak French. We are looking forward to spending some time with them.


Loulou, Agathe, Catherine and Tricia
(Click on picture for more detailed view)

Day 169 - Saturday, January 6
Stuart, Florida
Mile 6 on the Okeechobee Waterway

Our errand today was to find West Marine. It was on the other side of the bridge. Actually, there is a series of three bridges right next to each other. The first is a draw bridge where you have to radio the bridge tender to stop traffic, raise the bridge and let you through. Next is a low railroad bridge, but it is usually raised in one section so boats can get through easily. It comes down about twice a day for a train to pass over. Next is the high, modern bridge which sailboats can easily pass under. I've never seen three bridges so close together before.

After passing through the bridges, Dan easily found West Marine. We anchored nearby. Tricia and I stayed on the boat while Dan and Zion took the dinghy in to the shore. Tricia and I cleaned and sorted her growing shell collection because it was a nice, warm, sunny day (for a change). While we were up on deck, we heard a big commotion in the water nearby. We looked and saw a small brown pelican with something hanging out of its mouth that looked like a squid. Several bigger white pelicans were surrounding it and trying to steal the squid away. They were attacking with their long beaks, stabbing over and over again. It was a very vicious display. Tricia and I couldn't even watch. It looked like the little brown pelican was going to get bludgeoned to death. It seemed unable to fly away. Eventually the biggest white pelican stole the squid and flew off with it. All of the other pelicans followed, except the little brown one which didn't seem able to fly at all. We watched it swim behind a nearby boat. He seemed to be pulling himself together. Tricia felt that he was ashamed. I was starting to think about contacting a seabird rescue agency when suddenly the little brown pelican took off and flew away. I guess we'll never know exactly what that was all about. The whole incident surprised me because I had never thought of pelicans as aggressive before. They usually make me think of beauty and peace and gracefulness as they glide silently over the water. They are usually solitary birds, hunting for food on their own. Maybe they are solitary because they don't know how to play nicely with others!


Tricia's Shell Collection
(Click on picture for more detailed view)

Dan and Zion came back from West Marine about 5:00. We pulled up the anchor to make the short trip back to our anchoring spot next to Sea Kid's Six. Everything was going fine until we heard a big swoosh under our boat and we came to a sudden stop. We had run aground on a sandbar. It was our first time going aground since we started this trip, so I guess we were due.

Running aground in Florida is common because narrow channels are often dug through shallow waters to make the Intracoastal Waterway complete. We have seen many boats aground over the last few weeks, and lots of small tow boats, too. Our problem was that the channel took a sharp turn out when you expected it to turn in and line up with the opening in the big bridge. We were all glad that Captain Dad was at the wheel when it happened. Nobody got a lecture for poor piloting! (The marker wasn't on the chart - Captain Dan)

One of our back rudders popped out of place when it hit the sand. Zion held it for awhile until the top bolt broke in half and it came off completely. There were lots of boats out, and a small boat with a big engine stopped by and offered to pull us off the sandbar. Since our rudders hang down a foot lower than the hull of our boat, Dan took the remaining rudder off, too. The Good Samaritan boat pulled us back off the sandbar and went on their way. Thank you!

Now we were back in the channel and afloat again, but we were rudderless. We could only steer by physically clutching our outboard engine and turning it to the left or the right. Zion knelt on the floor and leaned down into the engine box to steer with the engine while Dan worked the throttle and I relayed messages from Dan to Zion (who had his head down the hole next to the engine). It wasn't the best method, but we didn't have to go far and it seemed to work well enough. Unfortunately, in the short distance that we had to travel we had to negotiate through the three bridges and there was a stiff wind coming from the side.

Steering with our engine worked well enough to get us under the high bridge without hitting the supports beneath, but once we were through it there must have been some strong currents around because we couldn't steer where we wanted to go anymore. We needed at least one rudder back on. Of course, it was getting dark. These things never happen in daylight. So Dan worked on re-attaching our one good rudder while we floated aimlessly in the small triange of water between the big bridge and the railroad bridge. I stood on watch to make sure we didn't crash into either of them. Luck was with us and we stayed pretty much in the center of the space. There was a long fishing pier directly under the big bridge so we had a good audience to watch our hapless meandering and catch us if we got too close to the concrete wall.

Dan got the rudder back on and it gave us just enough control to get through the railroad bridge. Tricia and I each sat on one of the bows with an oar in our hands so we could push ourselves away from the supports of the railroad bridge if we got too close.

Our next obstacle was the drawbridge. The bridge tender was kind and already had the bridge up for us so we didn't have to try to perform a circle maneuver in a waiting pattern. That would have been a little more than we could handle.

After getting through the third bridge it was just a short way back to our anchorage. We dropped anchor and rested safely for the rest of the night.

Day 170 - Sunday, January 7
Stuart, Florida
Mile 6 on the Okeechobee Waterway

Today we all went over to visit our neighbors on Sea Kid's Six. Their boat is an old fishing boat, like a shrimp boat, but they modified it to suit their needs. What they have now looks like a small ranch house sitting on top of a boat hull.

In the hull there is a separate bedroom for everyone. Food is stored under the beds and the floor. The top floor has an enclosed captain's room at the front, with a living room, bathroom and big kitchen in the back. There is also a workshop out back that seems to be in constant use. Right now they are working on fixing up a small sailboat for the kids to play in. They just got it working, but the mast broke. Now they are doing some metalwork to fix it.

When the big wakes go by, their boat does not tip very much. They have devised an ingenious system to steady themselves. From the top of the boat, two big metal arms reach out to the side. Cables hang from these arms into the water. At the end of the cable is a wide, flat anchor-type device that sits in the water. There is so much water sitting on top of these metal plates that when the boat wants to tip, it must counteract the weight of all that water. That minimizes the boat's penchant to tip. The two arms make their boat look like some kind of shrimp boat.

Renee showed me her kitchen. She has a regular size stove/oven that runs on propane. She also has an electric oven she can use when the generator is running. But she does not have a refrigerator. She showed me a bucket of beef that she said she salted. She had a tray of large buns in the oven and six loaves of bread rising on the counter. We all had the fresh buns with butter for lunch. It was the best bread we've had in the last six months! She said she makes bread every other day. They eat it for breakfast every morning. Reminds me of Madeline! She said she also makes cookies and pies and French pastries. I think they are eating well.

Renee spent the afternoon helping me with my French, and I helped her with her English. She took out one of her children's ABC books and she translated it for me. She spoke English much better than I spoke French. I told her that I had studied one year of French in high school. She said she took a class in English, but she didn't like the teacher. She told her parents she didn't like learning English so they took her out of the class. Now she regrets that decision, but she is learning well on her own.

We learned that their family has already spent two years on the boat. Their destination is Vancouver, where they want to live, but they are not in any big hurry to get there. They expect to live on their boat when they get to Vancouver. They all want to learn English before they get there.

Day 171 - Monday, January 8
Stuart, Florida
Mile 6 on the Okeechobee Waterway

Today was our day to explore Stuart. We are sitting on the other side of the channel, across from the city park. That is where our nice, out-of-the-way anchorage is. It is quite a distance from our boat to the park. We can row our little dinghy there if the water is smooth, but today it is rough so the Sea Kid's Six offered to give us a ride to shore in their big dinghy. They have the same Yamaha 10hp engine on their dinghy that we have on our boat, and they have enough room to hold at least eight people.

They took us to the park. The park has a long, low boardwalk going out into the water. It makes a little lagoon along a nice fishing pier. There are park benches scattered along the walk, just perfect for quiet contemplation and scenic viewing. Along the edge of the park is a long, low seawall that leads to a boat ramp. There are at least twenty dinghies tied up along the seawall. They belong to the boaters that are anchored offshore. Just next to the park is the city marina. They do not have docks for boaters, but they do have moorings out in the water for just 6$ a night. There are at least seventy boats out on these moorings, and we have to pass through them to get to the park.

Normand was our captain, and he took us right up to the shore. We didn't even get our feet wet. He said we should call him on the radio when we wanted to get a ride back to our boat. With that, he left.

Zion was with Sebastian and Frederick, trying out their new little sailboat. Sailing was new to them, so Zion had fun teaching them his sailing skills. Zion enjoyed having the chance to be the captain of his own sailing vessel.

Dan, Tricia and I started off on foot to explore Stuart. It was a big city. Just beyond the park was a busy six-lane federal highway. We were in the commercial district where there were lots of businesses and specialty shops. But we learned that the nearest grocery store was over a mile away, and the library was four miles away, on the other side of Stuart. But we did stumble on the post office and got in the long lines to buy our 1 cent stamps (postal rates went up today). It was funny, because there were two vending machines for selling stamps, but both of them were sold out of the 1 cent stamps. So they sent a postal worker to a little side door with a small change box, and she sold stamps. Her line moved the fastest, so we waited there. Again, I was impressed with the professionalism and good humor of the postal workers. But Tricia says that all she can think of when she sees a postal truck is the nasty postman who tries to ruin Christmas in "Olive, the Other Reindeer". They really get maligned in all of the media, don't they?

Next to the post office was Indian River Community College. We've been able to use internet at community colleges before, so we decided to give it a shot. The receptionist was very helpful, but unfortunately this was just a branch campus. All they had were computer labs and today was the first day of classes for the new semester. All of the labs were in use. But she did make us a photocopy of the city map in the phone book, and we were very grateful for that.

Realizing that the library was out of reach, we gave up on the hope of checking our e-mail today and headed back to the boat. Across from the park was a little store in a strip mall called "Cyberdragon". They sold comic books, so we stopped in to see what they had. The owner was a very friendly guy named AJ who used to live on a boat himself, and he travelled a great deal so we had a lot to talk about. He showed us the gaming section of his store. People buy little models of monsters with weapons and they sculpt and paint them, then they meet and challenge others to war games. The games are played out on tables with scenery and everything. It's kind of like a combination of Dungeons and Dragons and chess and model railroading. He invited us to come back on Thursday and watch a game. He also said we could come back and use his internet. Hooray!

When we were ready to go, Normand came to pick us up. He took us back to our boat and we parted with a great deal of "merci", "thank-you","au revoir" and "your welcome" going back and forth. Normand has very good English and he likes to talk. When I thanked him for the ride he charmed me with "The pleasure is all mine". Do any American kids know how to say that?

Day 172 - Tuesday, January 9
Stuart, Florida
Mile 6 on the Okeechobee Waterway

Tricia and Zion both went sailing with Sea Kid's Six today. Their little sailboat is very steady because they filled the bottom with heavy ballast. They don't like boats that tip! The heavy ballast also makes the boat extremely stable as eight kids scramble in and out of it. The kids went sailing in various combinations. They were constantly bringing back kids that wanted to get out and loading in new kids that wanted to go along. The cove was a perfect place for kids to learn how to sail. They were always in our sight and there were natural boundaries, the three Stuart bridges to the east and the Palm City bridge to the west.

In the afternoon, Tricia invited the three girls to play on our boat while the boys continued sailing. They were very excited by the candy canes that we still had hanging around our boat from Christmas. They called them "bonbons". We were pretty sick of them, so we were happy to share.

We played a game of Scrabble, letting people spell in English or French. We had trouble explaining the rules for how to hook words together, so we had them in all sorts of odd ways, even backwards. It was a crazy-looking Scrabble board when we were done!

Next we tried something simpler, that only used numbers. We could count in French, and they could count in English, so that worked better. We just took turns shaking the dice to see who would get the most ones, then the most twos, etc. At the end of the afternoon the girls went home and we were all happy with our new friends.

Day 173 - Wednesday, January 10
Stuart, Florida
Mile 6 on the Okeechobee Waterway

Today was windy, wavy and rainy, so we spent a quiet day on the boat. The boys braved the weather and did a little sailing together.

Day 174 - Thursday, January 11
Stuart, Florida
Mile 6 on the Okeechobee Waterway

For every uncomfortable day that Mother Nature gives us, she compensates with a glorious one. This was a glorious one. The sun was shining brightly without a cloud in the sky and the temperature quickly rose into the seventies.

Dan finally got the weather he needed to continue painting on the top of the boat. Zion and Tricia went out sailing again with their friends, and I brought out my sun oven. I made cornbread for breakfast and rice for dinner and gingerbread for snacking. I even tried a loaf of bread again and it was warm enough outside to make it rise just the way it should. It was beautiful! But by the time I put it in the oven in mid-afternoon a bank of fluffy clouds came across the sky. The temperature in the oven plummeted, and so did the bread in the oven. At the end of the day I took out the half-baked bread. We cut it in slices and I fried them with butter and garlic salt. Zion loved it! (I didn't even try any - I'm not into doughy bread.) I told Zion not to get his hopes up. I would never be able to duplicate that exact level of half-bakedness again.

In the afternoon, Tricia invited the girls over again. This time they brought with them a loaf of their mother's excellent fresh-baked bread and a bucket of still-warm peanut butter cookies. The homemade bread and cookies were a great treat for us, but the girls preferred our store-bought cookies and our candy canes. Another example of valuing the unusual and taking the good things that you have for granted. I've accepted it an an inescapable quirk of human nature. I think it was designed to keep us always motivated for change.

This time we tried an activity that didn't require any language skills at all. I pulled out our bag of colored threads and we taught the girls how to make the knotted friendship bracelets that are popular with young girls. They picked it up immediately and their fingers were flying all afternoon. Tricia went on to another activity after finishing half of her bracelet, her normal tolerance for craft projects. Agathe, Loulou and Catherine had finished their bracelets by then and were busy on their second ones. Tricia and I had never realized that it was possible to make them so quickly.

After bracelets, we did some drawing. Then the little ones, Loulou and Catherine, entertained themselves with some of Zion's action figures and Tricia's stuffed animals. The French was flying fast and furious in that game. I couldn't make out a word of it.


Loulou playing computer games
(Click on picture for more detailed view)

Agathe wanted to do the dice game again. We were actually able to work her up into a full game of Yahtze. She loved it, probably because she usually won.

When the candy canes were gone we pulled out the gum. Tricia taught them how to say "chewing gum" correctly. They had trouble with the "ch" sound. They only seemed to know the "sh" sound. They made up a little sing-song about their chewing gum and enjoyed it tremendously. They also got excited by the Kool-aid I gave them. I wonder if their mother will ever forgive me for all of the sugar I'm pouring into them?

While the girls were here, Dan and Zion took Normand with them to watch the wargames being played at Cyberdragon. Zion and Normand each got a chance to play with a small army. Normand chose a few high-tech warriors and Zion chose a large band of barbarian-types. It was a close contest but the dice gave victory to the barbarians. During the gaming, Dan got a chance to use the computer. He talked with AJ some more and learned that he and his wife were hosting a 16-year-old Japanese exchange student named Mitzi in his home. AJ was hoping that Tricia could spend some time with her since she was always anxious to meet new friends from different areas of the U.S.

When the boys came back, the girls went home with lots of "good-bye" and "see you tomorrow". But I wonder if they really will come back now that all of our candy canes are gone?

Day 175 - Friday, January 12
Stuart, Florida
Mile 6 on the Okeechobee Waterway

Today we ran out of water in our main tank and we needed a pump-out so we made our way to the city marina. There was a strong wind out which made docking difficult. It was blowing us hard into the dock. We were greeted by the city dockmaster who was very friendly and helpful. Everything on shore was under construction, so there were no showers or laundry facilities. There was a pump-out machine at the end of the dock but we were very disapppointed to learn that it wasn't hooked up yet. But they did have water for us. We asked about other nearby pump-outs and were surprised to learn that there was a portable pump-out available. All you had to do was call "Martin County Pump- out" on the radio and a boat would come to you to provide the pump-out. And it was free! At least, it would be free for the first six months. Then they were hoping people would like the service so much they would pay for it.


Junior Sailors
(Click on picture for more detailed view)

The stiff wind meant great sailing for the boys. Their skills were developing now so they could handle it. They had a small adventure when they pulled into the park dock. They wanted to take down the genoa and put up the smaller jib. But because of the strong wind against them, they had difficulty rowing back out of the dock area. Eventually, Zion pulled them to the edge of the park with a rope. Then he hopped in and they paddled like crazy until they got out far enough to put up their sails and tack. The temptation to radio for help was strong, so we're proud of them for muddling through to success on their own.

Day 176 - Saturday, January 13
Stuart, Florida
Mile 6 on the Okeechobee Waterway

This morning Tricia wanted the chance to go sailing without Zion, so she did. She and Agathe and Frederick and Normand had a good time sailing together without their oldest siblings.

In fact, Tricia's sailing skills have developed a great deal this week. During the first six months of our trip Zion has become an excellent first mate. In fact, he is so good that Tricia's help is rarely needed up on top of the boat. Consequently, she felt left out and she hasn't had the chance to develop her seamanship. We decided it was time to make some changes. Starting this week, Tricia and Zion would alternate weeks as first mate. During Tricia's week as first mate in-training, if Captain Dad needed help, he had to call on Tricia and teach her what to do. Zion was not allowed up on deck during those times. Nothing kills motivation faster than a bossy older brother telling you what you're doing wrong. To keep Zion occupied, he became galley slave for the week and helped Mother with her chores.

I'm happy to report that after the first few days of recalcitrance, Tricia has achieved a major attitude adjustment and she is now happy and eager to learn how to be a good sailor. Once her attitude changed, she started learning very quickly. We are very proud of her advances, and so is she.

In the afternoon, Zion went sailing and the girls came over again. They were disappointed that the candy canes were gone, but they recovered when we uncovered a Big Jim in the bottom of the snack hammock. (Big Jim is a giant candy cane twelve inches long and one inch wide.) We cracked Big Jim into pieces and everyone was happy.

The girls wanted to make more bracelets. They needed something for their ankles. While they knotted, Tricia put on her CDs. We started with Britney Spears, but the big hit was Aaron Carter. His songs were great because they repeated simple phrases and they had a good beat. The girls' favorite was "I Want Candy". We played it at least ten times and they learned to sing the chorus. They also liked "My Internet Girl" and "Girl, You Shine Like the Sun in the Sky". Their English is improving rapidly. They still get frustrated when they can't express themselves, but we have an English-French dictionary nearby to help us out. Tricia and I are also learning a lot of French. It's not so hard after all, once you get used to it.


Loulou and Agathe playing
(Click on picture for more detailed view)

The kids have also been exchanging written notes back and forth during the week. Agathe wrote a nice note to Zion to thank him for teaching her English and sailing. Normand sent Tricia a collection of foreign coins (his extras). She wrote him a note back in English, French and Spanish. Writing notes is nice because it gives you time to look-up all of the words and the other person doesn't have to wait for you.

When the girls tired of making bracelets, the little ones played with toys again while Agathe and Tricia played Yahtzee. They had an afternoon of phenomenal luck. Tricia shook Yahtzee more than once, an event that has eluded her for the past year. (Yahtzee is getting all five dice with identical numbers). And Agathe shook so many of them we lost count. In one game she had double Yahtzee, and in another she had triple Yahtzee. Amazing!


Loulou, Trish and Agathe
(Click on picture for more detailed view)

I was all out of cookies and crackers, so I made popcorn for the girls. It's time to go grocery shopping again.

Dan visited AJ again today. AJ asked if Tricia would like to go out to dinner and a movie with Mitzi. They were going to see "The Emporer's New Groove". Tricia was anxious to meet the girl from Japan, so we made arrangements to meet on Sunday.

Day 177 - Sunday, January 14
Stuart, Florida
Mile 6 on the Okeechobee Waterway

It was a beautiful, warm sunny day. The water was calm until all of the weekend boaters went zipping by. Their wakes made us bounce quite a bit. In fact, a pot of water fell off of the stove while I was heating it. That has never happened before. I guess it's because I usually don't cook when the water is real rough. Today the water wasn't rough, it just had some occasional wicked wakes.

After lunch we went to the park with the girls and their mother, Renee. She told me that she liked to feed peanuts to the squirrels in the park. This might not sound like much, but understanding it felt like a major accomplishment. She had to use lots of hand motions to get me to figure out she was talking about a squirrel. Before that breakthrough I thought she was just talking about peanuts that ran around.

I had a chance to talk to Sebastian, and he told me that he liked living on the boat but it was difficult to have any social life. It was hard to meet other people his age (16). Well, Mitzi was sixteen so we asked if he wanted to take Tricia's place and go to the movies with her. He was too shy for that, and so was Mitzi. It turns out that she had attended an all-girl school in Japan. Tricia went off to the movies and Sebastian had some time to think. He decided he would like to meet her and ask her if she wanted to go sailing with him.

Day 178 - Monday, January 14
Stuart, Florida
Mile 6 on the Okeechobee Waterway

In the morning Dan took the dinghy down to the other bridge and the opposite shore. It was a long row, but the water was smooth and the sun was bright so he had a good time. When he got there, he found the Palm City boat ramp next to the bridge. It had a few docks and a long fishing pier. He checked out the town. He stopped to talk to the State Farm agent and learned that he had been entertaining everyone with his unique style of dinghy-ing. When you row the dinghy you are always facing backwards, so you have to turn your head occasionally to see where you are going. Well, being all alone it was easier for Dan to spin the dinghy around in a circle than to crane his neck backwards, so during his leisurely voyage he was spinning little circles every once in a while. The landlubbers were watching his antics and trying to figure out what he was doing. The State Farm guy was very helpful and gave us the details on our insurance coverage in the Bahamas. He also gave us a Chamber of Commerce bag full of great stuff, like maps of the city and a calendar of events. We learned that the Palm City library was only one mile from the bridge and the Publix supermarket was only two miles, which is the easiest access we've been able to find at any of the docks and marinas around here.

At noon Dan went to pick-up Tricia. He took Sebastian along so he could meet Mitzi. Mitzi had the day off from school because of Martin Luther King Day. Tricia was having so much fun she wanted to hang-out with Mitzi for the rest of the afternoon. They walked around town and the park. Sebastian joined them for an hour and they made plans to take Mitzi for a sail on the little sailboat on Friday.

When Tricia finally came back for dinner, she told us about her adventure on land. She and Mitzi saw the movie "Family Man". Then they stayed up until midnight talking and painting fingernails and things like that. Tricia was the first one up in the morning and she used their computer to catch up on her e-mail. She had a really good time.

In the evening we were invited to the Sea Kid's Six boat. They were entertaining another boating family from England. The English family had a 16 year old boy, Simon, and a twelve year old boy, Daniel. They have lived on their boat, Dreamworld, for eight years since they much prefer the warm climate to the cool English weather. They've based themselves here in Stuart for the last four years, while making annual jaunts to the Bahamas or other nearby places. But soon they will be heading for the Panama Canal and Costa Rica.

While the adults talked about boats and destinations and home schooling, the kids organized some dinghy races for themselves. It created a great deal of excitement and cheering. The object was for one person to get in our little dinghy, row out to our big boat, touch it, and return while someone timed the trip on a stop watch. Zion rowed for the little girls, Loulou and Catherine. We're proud to report that the Americans won - Zion came in first. But then, he has practiced rowing a great deal more than the other kids. They are all spoiled with engines on their dinghies.

At midnight we all went home and had a good night's sleep.

Day 179 - Tuesday, January 16
Stuart, Florida
Mile 6 on the Okeechobee Waterway


Pelicans at Palm City Dock
(Click on picture for more detailed view)

This morning we pulled up our anchor and went down to Palm City. We tied up on the outside of the boat ramp dock, locked the boat, and left a note that we would be back in a few hours.

We stopped at a bank to get some more cash and those all-important rolls of quarters for doing laundry. Then we easily found the library. Zion got a chance to catch up on his e-mail while Tricia did some reading.

Dan and I walked on to the Publix supermarket. We passed several beautiful gated communities. The long, low stucco enclosure walls seemed to stretch on forever. Some were neatly painted in pretty pastels, some were decorated with beautiful tiles. They were all fronted with perfectly trimmed hedges and gardens. There were water fountains at the gates.

Just when we thought we might be stranded in residential zoning, we came to the supermarket. I really like the Publix stores down here. They are big and full of everything you could want. They have fresh bakery, great produce and good prices. The stores are always very neat and well taken care of, and the people who work there are so friendly and helpful. The manager, Suzy, said she would give me a ride back to the dock. With that, Dan headed back to the library and I spent the next several hours shopping.

We were out of almost everything. Our last few meals had been rice and beans (we have an unlimited supply of that on board). I filled up three shopping carts, a new record for me. As they accumulated at the front of the store I think the checkers were eyeing them up and trying to guess who the unlucky one would be. When I checked out there were several people helping to pack it up. They even put it in boxes so I wouldn't have a hundred bags to carry home. And, best of all, they were very careful about putting heavy cans on the bottom and light stuff on top, and keeping all of the refrigerated items separate so I could get them into a cooler quickly. Yeah, these are little things but they sure make a big difference to me. They should be part of bagger training in every supermarket.

Suzy said her car was too small for all of that, so they got Jim, the produce manager to give me a ride in his van. Jim was an avid fisherman and boater. He had even gone to the Bahamas in a sailboat with his parents, so he had a good idea of what lay in store for me when I got back to the boat. We had a nice talk about the area and boating.

When I got back to the boat I found my family waiting for me, along with two big slices of pizza. They had stopped at a pizza place for lunch. It was so delicious. It must have been at least six months since we had pizza.

We took the boat back to our anchorage and I spent the rest of the day packing everything away. The kids went to the neighbors and did some more dinghy racing in the dark.

Day 180 - Wednesday, January 17
Stuart, Florida
Mile 6 on the Okeechobee Waterway

Every morning here we can see a crab fisherman go by and pull up all of his crab pots. He has a string of them along the shore. He is alone in a small fishing boat. He goes to one of the floating bobbers, pulls up the string and puts the trap into his boat. He opens it and pulls out whatever is inside. It it's a crab, he puts it in his boat. If it's something else, he throws it overboard. Then the pelicans, cormorants and gulls start converging on him excitedly. One thing I learned on this trip is that if you want to be a fisherman, you had better like birds. They are always flocking around the fishing boats. Just one more reason why I will probaby never be a fisherman.

This morning I finished putting away the groceries. In the afternoon it was time for laundry. The nearest laundromat was in Stuart, about two long blocks from the park. Tricia, Dan and I got into our little dinghy and loaded in the three big bags of dirty laundry. It's a good thing that the water was very calm again, because the sides of our dinghy were only about six inches above the water. One big wake went over the front and splashed Tricia pretty good.

At the laundromat I met another boater who had been to Cuba. He gave me some good tips for visiting that country. I asked about how you get fresh water over there. He said they have a good city water supply in every town and it's easy to get, but you have to carry it back to your boat in jugs. The best thing is to just make it a daily chore and bring a few gallons back every day. He said that the government is loosening up and allowing a little free enterprise, so you can find little markets that sell fruits and vegetables. They will also bring a pig, butcher it on the spot, and let buyers select the piece they want. I'm not so sure I could handle that. We might just stick with our TVP (textured vegetable protein - soy meat).

He said some women also run little restaurants in their homes. They will send their children to the gringos to invite them to dinner. You follow the child and then bargain with their mama for your meals. He said they like to trade meals for things like Advil and shampoo. Once he even traded his extra set of sheets for five days of meals. He also suggested bringing along bags of miniature candy bars to use as little "thank-you" gifts to people who help you out.

Talking about meat, we had hamburgers for lunch today. It's sort of our traditional meal after every shopping trip. It's our one chance to have fresh meat that doesn't come from a can or from soy beans. Well, lately when we've had this feast the rest of the family complains about feeling sick afterwards. We may be losing our carnivorous habits.

Sea Kid's Six learned today that the Lake Okeechobee waterway has dropped to only five feet depth, so they will be unable to go that way for a while. They are talking about going east again to Palm Beach where there are more swimming beaches for the kids.

Day 181 - Thursday, January 18
Stuart, Florida
Mile 6 on the Okeechobee Waterway

Today Dan had a chance to get the new autopilot installed. This will be a big help when we are travelling from island to island in the Bahamas. Instead of having someone at the wheel constantly keeping us on track, the autopilot will keep our boat going in a set direction. Every fifteen minutes the pilot needs to do a GPS reading and reset the autopilot if we have drifted too much. Even a seasick pilot can handle that.

Today we had more French-English lessons when the Quebec girls came over. We put out a bowl of conversation hearts and had a lot of fun. The girls knew "Love You", but we had a hard time explaining what "Moon Beams" and "U R My Icon" meant.

Tricia is excited because she will be seeing Mitzi again tomorrow. Mitzi has the day off from school and Sebastian has invited her to go sailing on their little sailboat.

Day 182 - Friday, January 19
Stuart, Florida
Mile 6 on the Okeechobee Waterway


Trish and Mitsy in Stuart
(Click on picture for more detailed view)

We had to get up early to meet Mitzi at the dock at 8:30. At 8:00 Sebastian came over in his dinghy to pick-up Dan and Tricia. They all went to get Mitzi, then Sebastian, Mitzi and Tricia went sailing. It was a beautiful, warm, sunny day with just enough wind.

We had chili dogs for lunch on our boat, then we asked Sea Kid's Six if they wanted to go to the park with us and play soccer. Mitzi is on the school soccer team and she had brought along her soccer ball. They were all ready to play.

In the park we were joined by the English boy, Daniel. We had plenty of kids and energy for a great soccer game. Unfortunately, we didn't have much of a field. There was only a small unobstructed area in the park where they could play, so there were lots of out-of-bounds balls and big kicks that went flying through the goals. The score was 2-1 after the first minute.

The little Quebec girls often got frustrated because they didn't understand all of the rules and having four kids explaining them in English at the same time didn't help much. But every once in a while they would get in a good kick.


Frederick and Normand
(Click on picture for more detailed view)

The Quebec boys were good players, but they didn't have a great deal of interest in the game if there was a new boat pulling into the dock. We have learned that each of the boys have an all-consuming interest in boats. They spend most of their time working on their boat with their father, or motoring their dinghy or sailing their small boat. If they talk, it's almost always about boats. Sebastian's hobby is designing and building remote control boats. So, it wasn't a big surprise when all three boys would suddenly run off the field in the middle of the soccer game to look at the new boat that just pulled into the dock. It really didn't matter, because there were always enough kids left to play in the field that only needed four kids playing to be full.

After the game, we had some snacks in the park. I had made some Scotheroos that they all seemed to like. It was turning into a hot day, reaching the 80's. The kids stayed cool by balancing cups of water on their heads and occasionally spilling some on each other.

When sunset came, we had fun trying to organize everyone for the dinghy trips back to the big boats. Sebastian could only take four people at a time because the Coast Guard was around, so it took a few trips. Agathe, Tricia and Mitzi went out in our little dinghy so Mitzi could practice rowing. She wanted to be prepared in case any dinghy races were organized. But by the time Mitzi and Tricia had finished eating dinner on Sea Kid's Six, it was time to take Mitzi home. We all went to bed exhausted. It's been awhile since we've had such a busy day. We can't handle all of this socializing any more now that we're accustomed to the quiet life.

Day 183 - Saturday, January 20
Stuart, Florida
Mile 6 on the Okeechobee Waterway

Overnight a north wind came in bringing along buckets of rain. In the middle of the night we had to get up and close all of the overhead hatches because the water was pouring in. By morning the rain had stopped, but it was still cold, windy, cloudy and overcast all day.

Dan had made plans to take the Sea Kid's Six sailing on our boat today. He also wanted to test out the autopilot. Mitzi had enjoyed her sail on the small boat yesterday, and she wanted to try sailing on our big boat today.

At 10:00 we sailed up to the City Dock to pick her up. Just as we were docking the wind decided to pick-up and send some more rain our way. And a big wake hit us making our boat really bounce wildly. When I went back inside, stuff was laying all over the floor, including the food that had been peacefully sitting on the cupboard for the last few days. I stayed on the boat straightening things up and mopping up puddles from leaking windows. When Dan, Tricia and Zion came back with Mitzi they were all dripping wet. We declared safe haven and just sat at the dock until the rain passed. Everyone changed into dry clothes.

When Mother Nature calmed down, we went back and docked alongside Sea Kid's Six. Frederick, Normand and Loulou wanted to come sailing with us, so they climbed onboard. Then we were off.


Captain Dan at Sea
(Click on picture for more detailed view)

There wasn't any sun, but there was plenty of good wind for sailing. We went ten miles down the channel towards the Atlantic, then turned around and came back. We got up to ten knots at times. When you are going that fast, the sails are big and billowing and pulling hard on the ropes. Mitzi and the boys thought it was great fun. They even saw some dolphins, a first for Mitzi. Oh yeah, the autopilot worked great.

When we were done, we took the kids back to their boat. Mitzi and Tricia spent some time together, then Sebastian came and took Mitzi back to the dock.

Day 184 - Sunday, January 21
Stuart, Florida
Mile 6 on the Okeechobee Waterway

Today the sun came back. Hooray! But it was still cool and windy.

Dan finished installing our solar panel. It sits on top of the cabin, above the door, in an area where we seldom walk so it is very safe. If the sun shines all day, it can recharge about one-third of our battery. So we still have to conserve, but it's nice to have something so quiet and trouble-free at work giving us some of our energy. Dan left space to install two more panels someday. Some boats that we see have little windmills on board. That would be nice, too, but they are expensive.

Dan also started working on our last big boat project - getting the instantaneous hot water heater hooked up so we can take hot showers onboard. What a luxury that will be.

Day 185 - Monday, January 22
Stuart, Florida
Mile 6 on the Okeechobee Waterway

It was raining all morning, so we were stuck inside the boat with nothing to do but schoolwork. In the afternoon, the rain stopped and Zion radioed the Sea Kid's Six to see if anyone wanted to go sailing. Of course, they were up for some fun. They sailed awhile, then it rained some more. The girls came over to our boat to play. They were dripping wet and we had to give them towels.

Zion continued sailing with Frederick, who is his same age. Since they were the only boat moving along the waterway all day, they attracted the attention of the local dolphins. They had the dolphins swimming up alongside their small sailboat and they played a game of hide-and-seek across the water.

We have hot showers! Dan finished working on it today, then he tested it out. Tomorrow the rest of us get to try it.

Tonight we drained all of the power out of our battery. As we watched TV, our six inch screen started shrinking down to four inches. We turned it off in the middle of the show and went to bed. There was barely enough power for our little reading lights.

Day 186 - Tuesday, January 23
Stuart, Florida
Mile 6 on the Okeechobee Waterway

When we got up in the morning, Dan went out to start up the engine so it would recharge the battery. He knew he would have to lift the engine out of the water and then pull-start it because there wasn't enough energy in the battery for the electric starter. He's done this before when the battery has been drained. What a surprise when he went out and found that the electric starter worked! While we were still sleeping this morning, the sun came out and the solar panel started charging up the battery.

Today the rain is gone and the sun is back, but it's cold out with a fierce wind blowing. The weather radio told us this is the coldest winter that Florida has had in the last 42 years. We're pretty proud of ourselves for surviving the south's hottest summer and Florida's coldest winter all without an air-conditioner or a heater. Actually, no one in our family has been complaining about the cold. We know it's a lot worse back home.

The fierce wind made our anchor start dragging. We looked out of the cabin and saw the Sea Kid's Six boat a lot closer to us than it should have been. We all hurried out to reset the anchor. While we were working on it, Tricia's baseball hat was blown off of her head. We couldn't worry about retrieving it from the water because our boat was drifting into a nearby sailboat. Suddenly, Sebastian, Normand and Catherine came zooming out in their little dinghy. Apparently, they had been watching us and saw the hat go overboard. Normand was standing barefoot on the bow of the boat. He reached down and scooped up Tricia's hat. Then they pulled up beside us and delivered the hat into the fishing net Tricia held out over the side. How gallant! Anyway, we set out two anchors this time and eventually got them to set.

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