First, let us say Happy New Year to everyone. So far it has been a happy, healthy (relatively, more on this later) and exciting new year for Duet and her crew. We know it seems like we'll never leave Marathon, but we think we're about 2 weeks away from departing for the Bahamas. Those who follow us regularly will remember how long this last 2 weeks took when we left Maryland, and will correctly estimate our departure date as sometime in late February.
We've had a great time here in Marathon. We're tied up at the Sombrero Resort and Lighthouse Marina, a little way from the Dockside Bar, where the statement "there are some real characters in the Keys" is confirmed every night. Tristan and Maggie, since they don't get to go to the Dockside Bar, spend a great deal of time hoping one of our other local neighbors will overbalance and fall into Duet's cockpit, but so far it hasn't happened. Once we got settled, everyone set to work in their speciality. Nancy, tired of polishing teak and fiberglass, decided to polish the stainless steel, of which Duet seems to have literally miles. She also took up breadmaking, admittedly from a kit bought at Sam's. We hope the benefits of such vigorous exercise are not immediately negated by eating the bread with butter and/or jam. Ron focused on installing the bitt, which is a project of such scale that it gets it's own web page to detail all the steps necessary to secure the bitt to Duet. Those of you with a limited interest in engineering may wish to skim this page for the basics, without necessarily learning how to do it yourself. Suffice it to say it involved much drilling of large holes in the boat, which is very disconcerting for the rest of the crew, who expect the boat to remain watertight. We have used our dinghy quite a bit while in Marathon. Many places of interest, like the beach, Burdines (which sells great Key Lime pie) and West Marine, are reachable by dinghy. Since our dinghy is in the water, rather than up and covered on our roof deck, when it rains the dinghy fills with water (this being the tropics, when it rains, it rains hard). Therefore, the pumpout team must restore the dinghy to usable condition. Travel in the dinghy requires careful sun protection, which results in the Lawrence of Arabia look. Nancy's father, mother and sister Sally arrived Christmas week for several days. It was the first time they had seen the boat and everyone got into the nautical spirit, clambering on and off the boat and learning nautical terms. As an aside,everything on the boat has a different name than it has ashore (head for bathroom, galley for kitchen, etc.). This convention seems designed to allow those in the know to confuse those not familiar with the terminology (this is also true of other disciplines, such as medicine). Real experts can parse an entire sentence without using a common English term by saying, for example, "the galley reefer is for'ard and port of the gangway" instead of "the kitchen fridge is forward and to the left of the hallway". This produces a great deal of unnecessary confusion and statements such as "so where the #%^@* is the beer?!". Anyway, the family stayed at the hotel attached to the marina and a great time was had by all. As we're sure is common in the best of families, almost all our time was spent either eating or planning what, where and when to eat. Nancy cooked breakfast each morning on the boat, while dinner was served in the condo ashore to prevent any unfortunate disembarking incidents after celebratory toasts. Between meals, Nancy, Sally and Dad visited the Dolphin Research Center (just up the road from Marathon) where the Flipper TV series (and movie) were filmed. Some of the dolphins have been there for more than 30 years and apparently live to over 40. Current research focuses on whether dolphins can distinguish between the concepts of "more" and "less", rather than just count. It appears that they can but what they do with such a skill is anyone's guess. The center has about 30 dolphins and a number of expectant mothers, one of which weighed over 700 pounds. She athletically reinforced the concept of exercise during pregnancy and was quite a sight doing a flip! The dolphins appeared to enjoy visitors. Several jumped on and off a floating dock purely for the reward of our applause, as there was no trainer in the pen commanding them to do anything. While part of the family was visiting the center, Mother did us a huge favor: Since neither of us can sew, she repaired our flag, which had gotten somewhat tattered on the trip down. After the family departed they were sorely missed, particularly by Tristan and Maggie who got lots of attention during their visit (not to mention way too many biscuits and table scraps). Work began again to prepare Duet for the Bahamas. First, however, we had a large placid visitor, shown here swimming under Duet's bow. The manatee (gender undetermined) swam around the docked boats for nearly an hour apparently waiting for someone to give it fresh water with a hose. Unfortunately none of us figured that out, so it swam slowly away searching for more educated dock dwellers. Needless to say, after the family visit a trip to Sam's for more provisions was required. Said journey was made, courtesy of Budget, in a little red truck, which accommodated just about everything required in one trip. Unloading it took some doing but was nothing compared to fitting everything into Duet. We are now carrying approximately 5 months worth of canned goods, which translates into literally hundreds of cans, including everything from tuna to peaches. Further, dog food isn't available in the Bahamas, so we must bring enough to forestall a canine mutiny. We also picked up enough Phenobarb for Maggie, carefully packaged by the Publix pharmacist, who was intrigued by the challenge of supporting an epileptic dog in the Bahama out islands. Maggie, by the way, hasn't had a seizure since her dosage was increased 3-4 weeks ago.
Between episodes of working on the bitt (usually while the epoxy was drying) Ron recommissioned our watermaker. For those of you not familiar with the technology of reverse osmosis, the watermaker pumps seawater through a very fine membrane which traps the salt molecules. Fresh water, free of salt, is the result. Other filters then 'scrub' the water clean by removing chemical impurities. Finally, it is blasted with ultraviolet radiation to kill lurking microorganisms. When it is operating, colored lights flash (rather like those on the space ship control panels in the old science fiction movies) and it makes a great deal of noise. Fortunately there were no incidents of high pressure hoses coming undone during the recommissioning, since the watermaker is installed under the bed in the master stateroom. The membranes are quite sensitive to chemicals and are expensive to replace. They spent the last year pickled at a special storage facility in Rhode Island (Nancy has visions of the scene from the movie Coma with all the bodies in vats) and arrived packed in a special traveling solution.
When the watermaker isn't being used (like here in Marathon because we are tied up to the dock and can get water through a hose) the membranes must be flushed with fresh water once per week to keep them happy. We filter all dock water coming onto the boat through a 3 filter setup to ensure that only pure water is used to flush the membranes. The watermaker, by the way, is a Sea Recovery unit, rated at 600 gallons of fresh water per day. So far our experience indicates it can produce about 25 gallons per hour of great water. It is a very nice item to have in the Bahamas, where fresh water is scarce and retails for up to $.50/gallon.
Ron also bought a special water testing kit, which Nancy thinks reminds him of his days in chemistry class. When the kit arrived tests were conducted at various stages; water directly from the dock (the results of which you really don't want to know; suffice it to say don't make a practice of drinking water directly from a dock hose), water after it passed through our triple filter system, and fresh water produced from seawater by the watermaker. Ron keeps a log of the results to ensure that all the filters are doing their jobs. While Nancy felt his last step might be a bit of overkill, Ron correctly pointed out that this would ensure that we know when to replace the filters without having to rely entirely on Nancy's less scientific method of tasting the water.
Duet's crew enjoyed a somewhat unusual New Year as Ron decided to conduct a battery capacity test on December 31. Essentially this means that we run the batteries down as low as possible to determine how much power they really hold. Nancy used to think that the batteries held what the manufacturer said they did but it turns out that isn't the case. Batteries hold different amounts of power, depending on how fast the power is discharged. So if we use lots of devices, say the microwave, the lights, the stereo, the water pump and the blender, the batteries will discharge more quickly but yield less power. If we sit in the dark and only use the blender (to make margaritas to distract us from the fact we're sitting in the dark and haven't bathed) the batteries will discharge more slowly but yield more total power.
We use our batteries whenever we're not tied to the dock. We can also use our diesel generator as a power source but it's noisy.. As you can probably imagine, it's inconvenient to run out of power unexpectedly (this always happens at night in the middle of nowhere), hence the need to know different discharge rate capacities. The actual capacity of our batteries is about 1,200 amp hours, which lasts us about two days at a medium usage rate. We have monitors which tell us how much power we're using and how much is left; the capacity tests let us interpret that information more accurately than by just using the manufacturers rated capacity of 1,200 hours.
On New Year's Eve Ron decided to conduct a fast discharge test, which was OK because it meant we could use everything including the blender. Unfortunately towards the end of the day the batteries got low enough to reduce the number of appliances we could use but not low enough to stop the test. This produced entertaining combinations where, for example, we had to chose between lights and the water pump, so we showered in the dark. We also spent most of the evening with the lights at half mast, which produced a nice romantic lighting scheme but made it difficult to cook or find the wine bottle. Finally, after the batteries ran all the way down and the test was concluded, we set the charger to recharge the batteries during the night. Unfortunately, recharging the batteries discharges hydrogen gas which sets off the carbon monoxide detector, or at least that is Ron's hypothesis. All Nancy knows is that around 4AM on January 1 the carbon monoxide detector (which is under the master bed) went off and took ten years off her life. Ultimately, this experience was a good thing, because during the low discharge test several weeks later (after Nancy forgot how much she hated the high discharge test), the batteries went too low and set off the battery alarm at 4AM. Since Nancy is getting more used to these alarms, this, followed several hours later by the carbon monoxide alarm when the batteries were recharging, only upset her slightly.
Unfortunately, in mid January we suffered a slight setback in the form of Ron's right knee, which locked up after a long day working on the bitt. After several days of ibuprofen and ice packs we were forced to admit defeat and consult a real doctor. Fortunately, Nancy's parents know an orthopedic surgeon in Naples. Dr. Havig was referred to them by her brother Brian and his wife Wendy, who knew him both as a guest at their Salt Lake City restaurant and as a practitioner. Dr. Havig relocated to Naples after completing a tour with the US Ski Team, so he'd seen knees far worse than Ron's.
We loaded the patient, the ice packs, the dogs, a week's worth of dog food, Phenobarb, clothing, etc., into a rental car and journeyed the 4 1/2 hours to Naples. After a careful examination and an MRI it was clear that Ron required surgery to repair a torn medial meniscus, which is the cartilage in the knee joint. Surgery was scheduled for later in the week and we moved to Marco Island, where Nancy's parents acted in loco parentis for the dogs while Nancy provided morale (and literal) support for Ron.
The surgery went beautifully, although unfortunately the pictures are not available to link to the web site. We stayed several more days on Marco to ensure that Ron was healing well (and got some great pictures of Nancy and her Mother pushing him in a wheelchair which, much to Ron's relief, are not available digitally) and then returned to Marathon. Ron is recovering well and is able to begin small (no bending or kneeling) projects on the boat. We now expect to leave for the Bahamas in mid February, weather and knee willing. In the meantime, we've made many new friends, all of whom have provided invaluable advice on various destinations. We hope that our small contributions to their welfare (mainly in the form of bottles of wine) are adequate recompense for the all the great information they've given us.
We don't expect to provide any site updates from the Bahamas, although we will if we can. We plan to be there through June and will have access to our email at firstname.lastname@example.org. We hope everyone has a great spring and summer.