Thursday, February 28, 2008

February 2008 – The Pace Picks Up/Miami Boat Show

You might think that with the Indianapolis Colts out of the picture Super Bowl Sunday would have been a non-event for us, but in fact, since we have a long-standing rivalry with my sister and brother-in-law who are Patriots fans and since our son-in-law and grandson are Giants fans, there was plenty of suspense to the occasion. Transient neighbors across the way invited us to quite the party with their local friends, centered, thanks to nice weather, on the outside TV station of their high-end Beaver coach.

Several days later, Lou and Robbie Kestner, friends of Don's from his Indy work era, rolled in in their Fleetwood diesel and parked across the street for a several-day visit. During their stay we had a couple of evening bonfires, two big lunches at our latest restaurant find (a hangout called The Freezer in Old Homosassa where you can buy seasoned peel-and-eat shrimp by the pound box and pitchers of excellent beer for $7), plus a Mardi Gras party and potluck with an Elvis impersonator up at the clubhouse.

At the end of that week we had a surprise visit from Art and Joan Schuck, currently of sv OK Fine, but formerly of That's It and the charter biz in St. Thomas. Art and Joan have kept up with us by email newsletter over the years, so it was amazing to realize it had been a full ten years since we'd last seen them. Incredibly, they didn't look a day different, which I am quite sure no one would say about us! Art and Joan, who lost That's It in Hurricane Katrina in Biloxi, are also doing the part-time thing these days with a mobile home in Alabama's Gulf Shores and the boat in Central America.

That Sunday Don and I hitched up the new truck and set off on our first real road trip with it south to Ft. Meyers for a two-day visit with Don's folks, followed by our annual week in Downtown Miami for the boat show.

Miami Boat Show

As we did last year, we spent Tuesday night in the rest area at the east end of Alligator Alley before staging a dawn arrival at our parking lot on Biscayne Boulevard and 2nd St. in downtown Miami. Also like last year, we'd committedto pick up my boss Steve at the Ft. Lauderdale airport at noon. Unlike last year, the weather Wednesday was horrid, line after line of black storm clouds bringing thunder, lightning and torrential downpours. I was very uptight driving the new truck in I95 traffic in those conditions, but drive I had to, since Don was tied up elsewhere and since we'd need every spare inch of the truck's quad cab to squeeze in all the bags Steve brings for the booth. Fine time for the truck bed to look like a jacuzzi !

Despite all the heavy rain, the Sail America Team got the show started on schedule the next day again with perfectly beautiful weather. This year not only was I working the show with SeaTech, but Don was manning his own booth in the Strictly Sail section (conveniently just two booths from ours) for Spectra Watermakers and the local dealer Murray Marine. In the past Spectra and Dick Murray have only had the one booth in the big convention center, which is where Don worked for Dick last year. We were all pretty worried how the current economic climate would affect the show, and Don felt himself particularly on the line. Fortunately, although the crowd actually seemed pretty good, maybe even more qualified than normal for Miami ,(i.e. real potential buyers), most vendors, including SeaTech grumbled about slower sales. Don, however, did very well, and Spectra, Dick Murray and we were quite pleased.

Boat shows are never only about the show. There's the social stuff with old friends, the parties, and the dinners out with "the bosses". Steve of SeaTech took us to dinner twice at our favorite Bayside eatery, the Argentinean buffet grill – The Knife, plus we dined twice as Spectra's guests in Miami Beach. Kathy Parson's and I did our Women and Cruising Seminar again on Saturday, to a great response, even without our third cohort Pam Wall who was in Portugal with her husband rebuilding their boat engine. And, of course the Latitudes & Attitudes gang (my other bosses) threw their usual blast of a party on Saturday night.

By the end of the show on Monday night, our legs ached, and Don was coming down with a cold. To beat the muggy weather and drown out the traffic noise, we had taken to running our generator and air conditioning during the nights. Imagine our chagrin when our generator stopped of its own accord at midnight, suggesting a fuel tank down to ¼! Worse, when Don went to start the engine at 4am for our departure, the gauge read dead empty! Yikes! How could it be? Don lowered the jacks. No change. We were calculating the cost of fuel at the downtown station a few blocks north and whether it would be open yet not to mention whether we could get to it, when the needle finally deigned to rise. By the time we pulled onto the road it was up to half again. We made it to a more reasonable suburban station before we had to actually "fillerup", a very painful thing to do with an RV in this day and age. But by golly, we hadn't gone more than a few miles to our staging spot in Ft. Lauderdale when the needle was pegged on empty again. It seems our gauge is broken! Fortunately we know we can easily go 400-500 miles on half to two-thirds of a tank, so we will use the odometer until we can get it fixed….probably sometime next year!

We exited Miami this year much as we did last year, escaping the parking lot with the RV at 4am and then, in the parking lot behind Lester's Diner in Ft. Lauderdale, awaiting Steve, who followed in the truck with all the booth luggage later in the morning. After dropping Steve at the airport, we headed for Crystal River, stopping only for a cookie break in Ft. Meyers with the folks, which unfortunately put us in Tampa at rush hour. We got home to Crystal River at 8pm – which made it a helluva long day for the driver! How he did it with his cold is beyond me!

Pet Sitting in Clearwater

We had only one-day of R&R before we were back on the road for Clearwater. This time we left the RV behind, because the objective was to house and pet sit for the kids and Cindy while they all went off to Ft. Lauderdale themselves for the wedding of Tiffany's Indianapolis friend Kristin. It just a shame they didn't need us to babysit at the same time (an occasion we kook forward to with anxious anticipation), but Kai, as ring bearer, had an important role in the wedding party

It was a peculiar situation. We lived during the day at the kids' house – strangely silent devoid of Kai's animating energy – doing our cooking, our showering, our laundering, our computering, and, yes our TV watching on the big HD cable TV, but we slept over at Cindy's in her guest bed with Stoney the cockatiel yodeling at bedtime and two ancient dogs -- Tiffer's Yorkie Tyson and Cindy's Pekinese Bridget -- snuffling at beside in the mornings. At least we didn't have to actually walk the dogs. All we had to do was get them outside a half dozen times a day, which occasionally involved carrying them out! There was also the cat Stella, whose only interest in us was at meal time, and two turtles – one large and one small. Quite the menagerie.

It did afford us the chance to socialize with some St. Pete area friends. On Friday night we met up with Lee and Jan of sv La Boheme who rode aboard Tackless II for our ignominious last place arrival in the Musket Cove Pirate Race last September and whose boat is also at Vuda Boat Yard in Fiji. Lee and Jan have an utterly gorgeous condo on the ninth floor of a high rise overlooking the St. Pete Yacht Club. They had gutted and redone the space (officially a three bedroom corner apartment connected to a one bedroom unit next door) to create one of the most gracious homes I have seen in a long time. We enjoyed wine while the sun set and heard about Jan's campaign to thwart the city and governor's intent to built a new waterfront stadium in front of them. Afterward we had a nice Italian dinner at a sidewalk pasta place on Central Ave.

Saturday evening we again returned to St. Pete for a home-cooked dinner at our friend Dee's condo at which we were celebrating her happy new job. Don, Bill Church (who was also on hand), and Dee were all friends during Don's early days with Tackless II, and Dee has more disaster stories to tell about T2 than I do. Well, if not more, then maybe more dramatic! Dee was on hand for Don's first (and only) serious grounding when a squall caused them to drag anchor onto a shoal bank and an outgoing tide left the boat laid over on her side! If I remember the story correctly, that was a first date! Then there was the rough weather on Don's maiden open-water passage to the Dry Tortugas. And let's not forget Dee's visit to St. Thomas during which T2's prop shaft fell out in the middle of Drake's Passage. To Dee's credit, the point of resurrecting the story was to reflect on how in command she thought Don remained as he calmly asked to come below and put her hand over the hole in through which a copious amount of water was rushing! A good evening was had by all.

Sunday morning, while I stayed home to work on my column, Don went back down to St. Pete again, this time to help Bill with a few two-person boat projects on his Endeavor 37 Geodesic, like installing his new Stackpac mainsail cover and lazy-jack system. Don was back by the time the wedding guests made it home mid-afternoon. On our side, the animals were all alive and accounted for and cleaned up after (although Tyson managed to leave a puddle at the last minute barely five minutes after we'd had him out), while on the travelers' side it was clear that some people had had way too good a time and way too little sleep. So exercising the great discretion of parents everywhere, we took them to a balanced meal out, loaded up our car and got ourselves out of there!

Now we are back in Crystal River where I now have the cold Don kindly shared with me, and we have a list a mile long of things to get done before our road trip …with less than a week to do it. This trip north may be a bit premature as the forecasters are calling for a four-hour freeze here tonight! And it may be a moot point because Don has yet to survive his lessons in loading the motorcycle into the truck…to which we are selling tickets tomorrow morning!!! I'll let you know how it comes out!

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Wednesday, February 27, 2008

January 14-30, 2008 – At Home

After the holidays and the cruise, our lives finally slowed down to something closer to the laid-back retirement life advertised for Florida RVers. Units came and went in the rental spots around us, neighbors kibitzed about gardening ideas, we started making some of the park social events, we caught dinners-out and movies with friends, and I settled into a regular yoga class in town with some new lady friends here in the park.

The weather this year in Crystal River has been colder and wetter than we remember it, forcing us to repeatedly drape the lot in white sheets to protect new planting. It has also curtailed our Harley riding a bit. The cold is not so much an issue, but the wetness is! Still it's hard to complain about the rain when the area so clearly needs it.

Perhaps it is because retired folks don't have enough to occupy themselves, but it seems like the bug to acquire something new is making the rounds of the park, despite the economy. Our biking buddies Chuck and Sandy from Vermont exchanged their Newmar coach for a Holiday Rambler fifth wheel exemplifying a trend to staying put. In fact, every unit I can see from where I sit this morning is a fifth wheel. Because they are not self-propelled, fifth wheels are less expensive per unit than motorhomes with more flexible interior layouts. Of course, if you actually want to move them, then you have to add in a costly diesel truck.

Other neighbors have bought houses. Our next-door neighbors Dale and Shawn, motivated by some health issues, surprised everyone by buying a new home back up in Missouri and putting their lot here up for sale. My gardening mentor Tom and his wife Mari stunned us the other day with the news of their new purchase of a house in the big Sugarmill Woods development in Homossassa. Thanks to the abrupt popping of Florida's real estate balloon, there seems to be a sense of opportunity among the people already here, despite the headlines about Florida's high taxes and crushing insurance costs.

We have not been totally immune. We continue to give real estate a thought. But we have no idea of what or where. When every line of thought we follow ends up with us fixed in one spot, we panic. For us, a more likely change may be upgrading the RV. We have owned ours now three years. The warranty is out, and worse, our manufacturer – National RV – recently went out of business! A bigger diesel RV would give us more living space and storage, plus a beefier machine to handle adding the motorcycle to our entourage when traveling. Plus, it would also automatically take care of upgrading our TV to a bigger HD unit! (You laugh, but I suspect the HD flat-screens have driven more recent trade-ins than any other factor!)

January, of course, is the time of the big Tampa RV show. We spent a day there and saw some very interesting units, but came away having spent on nothing more than a couple of burgers and a sign for the yard with our names on it (which says "If we're not here, were sailing." )

Although the fantasies continue, we have actually gone another way to solve the entourage issue. We have bought a truck, a 2005 Dodge Dakota Quad Cab 4x4. The Quad cab (four-doors) means not only will we have an enclosed vehicle for ourselves, but we can take passengers and stuff in a full-sized back seat; and the 4x4 (4-wheel drive) means we can tow the automatic truck four wheels down. The idea is the motorcycle will load into the bed of the truck (with the tailgate down), and we will then tow the truck behind the coach. Several of our neighbors with motorcycles have chosen this exact setup, so we benefited from their research and experience.

The search for a pre-owned truck took up a great deal of the month. Apparently, this is a popular model, and we found very few available on Car-Max, Ebay or in the classifieds. It seemed like all the trucks we were finding were fire-engine red or white. What we really wanted was a dark grey or khaki. We ended up buying 2005-midnight blue truck from the Dodge dealer in Ocala. It is a surprisingly handsome color with a very nice interior, and although it doesn't match the coach, at least it doesn't clash. I guess our next coach will have to have some blue in it!

After buying the truck, it then had to be fitted with a tow bar and a brake assist system. Our old car – the 1999 Saturn wagon we fondly call "the go-kart" – was so light it wasn't required. We chose the SMI Active Brake system which responds to an electronic signal from the coach as well as an independent surge brake. I must say on our test drives with the new set up that the brake system is very comforting on those quick stops!

Everything about driving the new truck is nice except for its gas consumption, which is mid-range (18-22mpg). Ecologically speaking, we always felt like the Saturn's 30 mpg helped balance out the coach's horrid 8 mpg, We considered keeping the Saturn as a second car, and would have for sure if we were stateside full time, but it made no sense for us to pay for two tags and two insurances. That's on top of the coach and motorcycle! As good fortune would have it, the kids had a neighbor inquire about buying their old gas-guzzling Ford Explorer right at the same time, so instead of trading the Saturn in, we sold it to the kids for what they got for the Explorer.

Our motivation for all this effort is a road trip we have conceived for the month of March. After all, we didn't buy the coach just to sit in a park! Although we are content with this area for what it is, we're not ready to settle down. Since the time of year we are able to be back in the US precludes our dream trips out west, our plan is to take the "entourage" to the hills and mountains of northern Alabama, Georgia and North Carolina and explore the areas by motorcycle from our RV base.

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