Needing Less Doing More

Tag: big pine

New Years in The Dry Tortugas Part1

“Isn’t she lovely?” 

-Stevie Wonder

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Meeting up with the Filer’s was a huge treat!

Leaving Big PIne Key, we set our sights, and sails, for Key West.  That place was an adventure in itself and I will come back to that.  All you need to know for now is that we got our fill of beer there, and liquor, and wine.  Key West was just a stopping point between Big Pine and our real goal, the Dry Tortugas.  With some luck, we’d even make it to the Dry Tortugas  just in time to intercept some Wilmington friends who were planning a day trip to the small Key.

Nila Girl and her inhabitants (Ren, myself, Oreo and possibly a small rat, who may have stowed away in Big Pine) raised sail early morning on December 29th.  Since Tay Filer and family were going to be in the Dry Tortugas on December 30th we were really pushing it, in true Ashley/Ren fashion.  Why get somewhere on time maybe even with time to spare when you can get there by the skin of your teeth, often inconveniencing family and friends who are more punctual than you?  It is a flaw I hope we can correct in the future.  Too late for this trip though.  So we sailed all day and through the night.  The wind was down so we fired up the engine for a few hours, technically on December 30th.  Our original plan, on leaving NC, was to never run the engine unless coming into port or if emergency requires.  This plan is only valid if you are not sailing on a schedule.  Something we still have not accomplished except for a few days at a time.  The sails were up and the engine roared until about 5:00 am.  We cut the engine and silently advanced.  Stealth like, but not really with Dinky (our inflatable dinghy.  Our car essentially) flapping around behind us!  Quiet Dinky, damn you!  Garden Key of the Dry Tortugas is home to Ft. Jefferson.  An old Civil War era fort which looks particularly menacing in the middle of nowhere, just standing there, cannons pointing right at you.  Union soldiers ready to board your boat, raping and pillaging.  I digress, it is easy to let your imagination get carried away in the lee of the fort.  So, like I said, Quiet Mr. Dink!

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Nila Girl had the Dry Tortugas to herself.

Approaching a shoaled complex such as the Dry Tortugas at night is not an easy feat.  It’s hard on the nerves.  This was evident on our boat by the presence of all three crew members on deck.  One armed with a Q-beam (me), another at the helm (Ren) and another licking his crotch in anticipation of landfall (Ren…I mean Oreo).  Daylight began to break which was a welcomed friend!  Not to mention a breathtaking sight as the red-orange sky rose on the east side of the fort, illuminating the ancient red bricks.  The fort is dotted with open air windows from which watch was kept and cannons were aimed.  The dawn poured out through these spaces and reflected on Nila Girl and our grateful faces.  It is funny how much a sunset, sunrise or blue moon come to mean to you when you’re living on a boat.  Without DVDs, Netflix, or anything but books and some writing and chores, the sky becomes an awesome form of entertainment.  I have managed to see three green flashes on our adventure during sunset.  Before this trip my grand total of green flash sightings came to a whopping zero, in fact, I kind of doubted their existence. 

We picked up the channel markers and easily sailed to the east side of the fort where we dropped anchor (silently of course, who knows who’s in the fort watching).  A few anchor dropping chores were done.  These chores include putting the engine on Dinky and taking Oreo to land ASAP.  He deserves a trip to land whenever we are somewhere to manage it.  Ren is in charge or Oreo and I’m in charge of getting everyone’s breakfast ready.  Did it, ate, then decided to lay down for a nap since we had sailed through the night.  But.  However.  Captain Ren was banging about the cockpit getting all his dive gear ready.  At our first sight of “Caribbean Blue” water since leaving NC, he was not about to pass up a dive for a much needed nap.  Truth be known, neither was I.  It didn’t take much to rouse me and before I knew it, Oreo was cashing in on the nap and Ren and I were in the water, swimming with a ~200 lbs. goliath grouper!  I can sleep later!

Dinky was ready for action so we decided to crawl in and go exploring while we were still brimming with excitement.  We soon realized that it was terribly hard to pick out an appropriate dive spot.  To remedy this situation, we got out of the dinghy and drug it behind us.  First stop, underneath a sport fishing boat that was anchored near us.  Underneath that boat, seven goliath groupers!  These groupers were the puppy dogs of Garden Key.  They chilled underneath boats looking for handouts, and who didn’t have the heart to give some to them?  Not us!  A guy from the boat we were hanging with the groupers under gave us a little jack he had caught earlier.  I attempted to, ahem, feed the grouper but chickened out.  The mouth on that thing was pretty huge and who knew if he had good eye sight or not.  Like an old dog, he may misjudge the end of his treat and the end of your hand.  Confusing where one begins and the other ends, the dog chomps your hand a bit.  I didn’t want to risk this from a 200 lbs animal.  But Ren did.  Before Ren knew it, the grouper skillfully chomped the fish, and looking down we realized, he left Ren’s hand.  Phew!

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Just a cool shot.

Moving on we dove a few more spots.  Colorful angel fish and tangs swarmed the huge coral colonies that littered the rocky bottom.  We picked out two huge NC sized lobster and three lionfish (which are delicious to eat and make great ceviche).  The lobster were hanging out in front of their rock crevices.  Not in the holes, outside catching some rays I guess.  One reached his antenna out as if to shake my hand.  They were not afraid of us, that was for certain.  As we were on a reconnaissance dive we did not bring our animal harvesting gear so the spot was mentally marked.  We were to return later after a visit to the fort to collect our lunch.  Good thing we decided on a recon mission first because later when we reached the fort, and had an interview with the park ranger, who bum rushed us as soon as we got off our dinghy, it came to light that spearfishing and lobstering are strictly prohibited in the Dry Tortugas.  In fact, you are only allowed to hook and line fish within a mile radius of Garden Key.  There goes lunch, and dinner, and breakfast the next day… 

We had collected Oreo after our dive, changed clothes and planned on making an afternoon out  of land exploration.  Our buds were supposed to be arriving by seaplane sometime that day.  We had already seen two seaplanes come and go and the ferry arrive with a horde of people.  No sign of any other North Carolinians.  This place was also the first place where we found a  nice beach to hang out on.  Taking advantage of this fact the three of us spotted a nice place in the sand and relaxed, letting the warm sun burn our poor little bodies (which I wish it was doing right this minute.  A cold front moved in and I’m freezing right now!).  After a few hours we got hungry and decided to go back to the Nila Girl and rustle up some grub.  But wait!  What’s that noise…a seaplane!  Leaning against the dock, we waited in anticipation to see if our buds would emerge from the awesome plane.  The plane circled around the fort and touched down in the water between the same channel markers Nila Girl navigated early that morning.  We watched the pilot run across the water and back the plane up right next to the beach.  This guy was good.  The small plane swung open her doors and people began pouring out.  We saw three children, two girls and a boy, jump to the sand.  Uh oh, our friends have two girls and a boy.  We saw a slightly chubby guy handing bags to the kids.  Ren pointed to the guy and said, “That’s him.  That’s Tay.  I can hear him from here”.  Now Tay works out a good bit.  I see him often at the UNCW pool swimming laps with Mr. Bob Berger.  This is how I got to know Tay.  I took one look at the gut of the man Ren pointed to and said, “Nope.  Give Tay some credit will ya?”  Underneath the plane were two more man legs.  Also, I saw the legs with a stance just like Tay’s!  Yeppers, our friend’s arrived.

They only had two hours to check the place out, not enough time, but we ran through the fort, reading this, questioning that.  The children earned their junior  ranger badges (they will thank their Mom later for making them do that at all the national parks they visit).  The visit ended with a quick snorkel.  Ren and I got to spend some time  with some NC-ians and also  left with one cold can on Lipton iced tea, a blueberry muffin and two, one serving sized containers of cream cheese.  Who scored?  We did! 

After their visit, it was back to the boat for some three hour late lunch and that nap I thought about earlier in the day.  The Dry Tortugas proved to be a place where we decided to stay three whole days.

Christmas in The Keys

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Sweet Christmas card made by our buddy, Caleb Jimenez.

Pictured left is a homemade Christmas card made by freedive student, Caleb Jimenez.  He even included the perfect number of weights on the bottom of the weight belt (silver squares at bottom of card).  Thanks Caleb!

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Merry Christmas Ren!

To preface this entry you must know that, until today, we have been docked in Big Pine Key at a friend’s house since December 14th.  Our longest dockage yet.  A great pair of family friends, Mr. Duncan and Mrs. Lee Dawkins gave us permission to dock at their home.  While there, for a week and a half we had access to their scooters, home, everything!  It was a wonderful reprieve from the boat, especially for Oreo who really relishes his “pee on everything” time.  Which doesn’t come often enough while traveling.  We will never be able to adequately thank the Dawkins for their hospitality.

The first Christmas ever spent away from my family was…you guessed it…this year, on Big Pine Key.  Well, I suppose the word family encompasses more than my parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and brother these days.  Now that I have a husband, Oreo and in-laws there’s plenty of family to go around.  Tnis doesn’t absolve my nostalgia for missing the Futrals badly.  I’m not ashamed to admit, I cried.  Christmas in the Keys includes warm weather (no white Christmas this year) and no shopping (a plus on a fixed income).  Instead, Ren and I spent a good bit of time hunting the elusive, barely legal lobster in the bays surrounding Big Pine Key.  After exhausting all of our lobster hunting resources, we managed to surface with two lobsters the entire week and a half we were in the Keys.  Needless to say, the overflowing lobster Christmas Eve dinner I had planned was lobsterless.  This could’ve been a problem (until we realized it didn’t matter at all) since the entire menu I had planned really depended on lobster as the centerpiece.  What is it they say about eggs and one basket? 

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Christmas wouldn’t be the same without our travel friendly Charlie Brown tree.

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Good bud, Kolt Johnson and Ren during a Christmas visit.

We didn’t spend the holiday completely alone, the three of us.  The “Big Chapmans” came down for a four day excursion.  The “Big Chapmans” consist of my father-in-law and his wife.  Mr. Frank and Mrs. Paula added the family element to our tropical Christmas.  Despite the slow paced Key-sey (everything is a bit tackier in the Keys, read: Keys-ey) holiday, ours was not without a little bit of obligatory family tension.  All tension was dissolved the first night with a bit of rum, some Will Farrell re-runs and X-Factor (the popular Fox talent show).  Our buddy Kolt Johnson and his family also came down to Big Pine in search of the Christmas lobster.  Kolt has been abroad for several years now and catching up with him is becoming increasingly more difficult.  It was really great to have the opportunity to spend quality time with him.  We even got to go hunting together, which is what spurred the friendship to begin with.  Mr. Ken Johnson, Kolt’s Dad, took us all out hunting in his boat one afternoon.  We also had the chance to have a few “family” meals together.  The only thing missing was our other buddy, Bruce.  Bruce, Kolt, Ren and I have become pretty good buds over the years.  What makes better family than friends? 

It was a bit harder than usual to get into the Christmas spirit with the common Keys theme of kissing dolphins (ugh), tropical fish and pastel colored everything.  Sent with the in-laws by Mom was a Charlie Brown Christmas tree.  We set the perfectly sad little tree up on the kitchen island and surrounded it with Christmas cards from family and friends.  Both of our mothers sent boxes of cookies with Mr. Frank and Mrs. Paula.  We received the cookies four days before Christmas and have managed to eat all but about five.  We have to save the last five because if we eat those, all of our worst thoughts about our lack of self-control will become reality.  We will have proved ourselves to be the gluttonous pigs we always thought we were.  Those five cookies will sit and get stale before they are ever chucked down the gullet.  We have to maintain control out here.  WE CAN’T LOSE CONTROL!  Sorry for yelling.  Also arriving with the Big Chapmans were bits and pieces of our lives left behind in our haste to get on the road…ahem…water, back in November.  Evolve Freediving t-shirts (for sale, email [email protected]), a few pieces of exercise equipment (made for me by Don Kimball, thanks Don!), two fresh blocks of parmesan cheese (my mother has Italian roots),  Italian bread, our mail, etc.  These were all welcome Christmas presents until last night when we had to load all of our new treasures into the boat.  Which we did, complaining the entire time.

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The “Big Chapmans” down for a visit!

To set the mood Christmas Eve, none other than Bing Crosby would do.  My favorite Christmas music memories are of Bing’s low voice echoing down my childhood home’s hallway as I raced to the steps near the kitchen with my brother, Corey, to peer across into the living room where our always grand Christmas tree shone bright with multi colored lights.  I was always grateful, and still am, at my Mom’s ability to avoid the themed Christmas tree.  No all white light trees or mauve bows on our tree.  It was every man for himself as we littered our trees with lights and  ornaments of every kind.  No comparison to the Charlie Brown tree of this year but the small tree proved to be enough for us and is nestled in one of our boat lockers waiting for next year.  Since there was no lobster on the menu, Mrs. Paula and I supplemented with collard greens sent by Ren’s Mom and Mudder (Grandmother), angel hair pasta with anchovie sauce (don’t worry Mr. Frank, no anchovies in your pasta) and eggplant and squash pate with crackers.  It was different from the usual hoopla of a huge Christmas Eve supper but DAMN, it would do.  It wasn’t half bad either.  We finished up the meal with chocolate roll sent by my Nannie.  I’ll go ahead and tell you, you’ve never had anything like it.  A little “It’s a Wonderful Life” and that was a wrap. 

The Big Chapmans left Christmas morning before we checked under the tree to see if Santa came to Big Pine Key.  We said our goodbyes, sent them off, then checked  the tree.  Santa came!  He left, tackily in a brown bag, a Spanish-English dictionary, a piece of dark chocolate with sea salt and a bar of Dr. Bronner’s “magical” peppermint soap.  Ren was happy since he really wanted the dictionary and loves Dr. Bronners and chocolate with sea salt.  Santa takes notes and always surprises!  The day was spent outfitting the boat for our next adventure.  We  cleaned and organized the boat for the next leg of the race, down to Key West.  Actually, this is being written en route to Key West.  We are exactly, hold on a second….”Ren!  Ren!  How far are we from Key West?  Huh?  What?   Ok, Ok!….Ren says we are 12 miles to our entrance.  Not too shabby.  We left Big Pine Key last night to catch the high tide.  We did not want  a repeat performance of our arrival into Big Pine, where we spent about 5 hours ran aground,  waiting for the tide to shift in our favor.  We safely exited the channel from the Dawkins’ into the bay at about 9:00 pm last night.  We camped in the bay and left at 7:00 am this morning (Captain’s orders) to continue on to Key West. 

First thing is first when we get there, dunk Oreo in the water…he’s hot, poor guy.  Second thing is second, or first maybe, dunk Ashley in the water…she’s hot, poor girl.