This morning, I cleaned up the beach area here at the property. I did a little leaf blowing, sand raking, and general sprucing up.
A group of about 20 people from the church came over for an afternoon picnic. We've gotten to know some of the very nice folks, and it was good to see a few people that had never been to the property before or hadn't seen it since Lee & Edie started cleaning it up.
We've seen the "before and after" photos and the transformation so far has been amazing.
We joined in on the picnic and were treated to some Key Lime pie brought by one of the ladies. We're not big fans of really tart Key Lime pie, but this one was sweeter and mildly tart - really good. :)
Since we are preparing to move on Tuesday, Linda went to do laundry and some grocery shopping in the afternoon.
When she returned, we plopped ourselves down in our loungers in some shade beside the water for a little while.
Before long, a couple more church members rode their bikes in to watch the sunset. We had a nice conversation with them as the sun did its usual thing.
As darkness came, Edie served a wonderful salad and chicken fetuccini, and I got a fire going.
Between the deadfall, dried palm fronds, dried coconuts, stumps, etc. there is enough fuel to have fires every night.
Another fine evening of relaxing and sharing.
Tomorrow, Linda & I are doing a snorkel trip. Read on for that. :)
In everything I read about snorkeling the Keys, the one thing that seemed to be recurrent was "If you only dive or snorkel one place, then choose between Sombrero Reef or Looe Key". I got a lot of my information from a great snorkeling website: TropicalSnorkeling.com. And we've heard many times what they say - the snorkeling in the Middle Keys is better than in the Upper Keys (Key Largo) or the Lower Keys (Key West).
I researched tour companies and really wanted to do Sombrero Reef off of Marathon Key. Looe Key is farther down off of Big Pine Key and we'll have to do that another time.
I didn't want to do a boat with forty people, so I looked for smaller groups. Often that means taking a tour with a company that takes both divers and snorkelers.
I made a reservation with Tilden's Scuba Center. Today, they were only taking snorkelers and there were only six of us going out. Perfect.
Linda took her Bonine motion sickness pills, and we drove the hour and a half to Marathon and arrived well before our 1:00 check-in time. It was much windier than I had hoped, and I knew the southeast wind was going to make for rough seas on the ocean. Oh well.
Knowing we would need to eat something, we decided to check out Keys Fisheries. Keys Fisheries is a Marathon-based fresh seafood market with a restaurant known for its Lobster Reuben. You order at a window and give them a name of a song which they call out when your order is ready for pick-up. You then sit at one of the many picnic tables on the porch overlooking the marina.
Sidenote: Linda gave them Boogie Woogie Choo Choo Train as our "pick-up" song. If you remember, I took a video of her dancing and singing to BW Choo Choo on the boat. Well, Steve Ripley, the founder and a member of "The Tractors" (the group that performed the song) commented on that You Tube video. Cool. :)
I have to say that the lobster tacos were nothing special. They were large, but rather bland. The fries were very good. :)
We made our way over to Tilden's at mile marker 49.5. It's kind of hard to miss with the big fish out front.
We checked in and got fitted for a wet suit. It's still winter here and the water is still only in the 70s, so I opted for the wet suit rentals - a good choice for a couple of reasons. :)
We boarded our boat and met our snorkeling buddies - a young lady (now living in Germany) and her two brothers from Minnesota plus her boyfriend from France.
Captain Billy gave us the rundown on safety and soon we were leaving the marina. He warned us it would be "bumpy" and when I asked about visibility, I didn't get a reassuring response. :)
We made our way under the Marathon end of the seven-mile bridge and headed out to sea a few miles.
We could see the Sombrero Reef Light as we approached and Capt. Billy told us to put on our wetsuits when we were about ten minutes away.
Once we were tied up at an outer buoy, he gave us more guidance on directions and where to go.
Because there were some pretty big waves rolling, we weren't allowed to swim over to the light ....
or swim on the shallower parts of the reef where the waves would crash us into the coral.
Along with the rolling waves, today's visibility was only to about 25 feet - not very good at all. Another thing we've learned about snorkeling in the Keys is that the water clarity is much better in the summer than in the winter, so winter snorkeling on the reef is kind of a "hit or miss" trip. And Capt. Billy told us that the clarity in the Key Largo area will generally be better than down here, so that's a plus for the Upper Keys.
Now, the other problem for the day was the presence of quite a few Portugese Man-O-War jellyfish.
They sorta look like little purplish plastic bubble packing material floating on the water. They look harmless but their long, trailing tentacles pack a pretty good sting.
Our wetsuits would protect us from stings, and Linda & I were further protected because we had dive boots and gloves. Only our heads and faces would be exposed, but that was enough to keep us on the lookout.
I had the video camera and was the last to get in the water. Whew, that water was cold when we first slipped in. We were glad we had all the gear. Here is the beginning of our swim at the first stop.
Sombrero Reef is what the call a "spur and groove" formation with many fingers. In other words, there are several reefs that stick out from the "spur" with gaps in between.
The visibility wasn't great, but I had a wonderful time going from finger to finger and looking at the huge varieties of fish. Unfortunately, the waves and current made it tough to stay focused on any one spot or to dive down.
Sadly, Linda was struggling with hair in her mask, and she didn't like the waves, plus she was worried about the Man-O-War. I kept my head in the water and kept moving, and the next thing I knew she was back on the boat. She doesn't care for the ocean and its waves - she much prefers the calmer waters of lakes and rivers.
I've got a lot more practice to do with the Kodak Playsport video camera in the water. I'm moving the camera too fast (the waves knocking me around didn't help), and I'm shooting a little high because I can't see the screen very well through my mask in less than perfect conditions.
But you can see some fish and purple sea fans as well as some other stuff blowing in the underwater "wind". :)
I saw several barracuda and put together this little clip of a few sightings.
Eventually, I looked up and saw the others heading for the boat. So, I scrambled back. I took some video of the boat from the water.
Capt. Billy said the ladder would be the most dangerous thing we encountered, so we all followed his instructions for approaching and climbing aboard so we didn't get whacked.
The poor young lady was seasick from the very beginning. She managed to get in the water, but I don't know if she enjoyed the trip at all. The fish liked her. :)
One of her brothers got sick only when he swam back to the boat and got on board. The rest of us were fine.
From there, we changed positions and moored on a buoy at the other end of the reef. Linda decided it wasn't any fun at all for her, so she didn't go back in. There were lots more jellyfish at that stop, so more caution was necessary.
I searched for a shark, but never saw one. I enjoyed the wide varieties of colorful fish, and I could see larger ones in the deeper water. I didn't mind the lack of water clarity or even getting bounced around in the waves, but every time I stuck my head up there was a Man-O-War nearby.
I dodged them as much as I could, but on the way back to the boat, I took a tentacle across the lip. Ouch! Capt. Billy said they weren't deadly and it was much like a bee sting. Only those allergic to bees and wasps and hornets needed to be really concerned.
Still I wanted to get to the boat to see if I was swelling up and to get some vinegar on it. It didn't leave a mark and within 30 minutes, I didn't even know it had happened. I thought getting stung by a Man-O-War was a much bigger deal than that. Of course, once was enough. :)
Capt. Billy got stung by a tentacle on the mooring line, and a fellow passenger got stung on the ankle. I had tentacles wrapped around my fins, but my boots, gloves, and wetsuit kept me protected.
If not for the Man-O-War and everyone else being ready to go, I could have stayed out there for hours. I look forward to coming back to the Keys and doing some more snorkeling, but hopefully in calmer, clearer water with fewer jellyfish. :)
The ride back in wasn't bad at all. At the dock, Tilden's has a big tank where you can rinse all your gear plus they have two outdoor showers with hot water, soap, shampoo, and conditioner. We used the porta-potty and took hot showers. That was nice.
I didn't have very high expectations knowing the wind was up, summer snorkeling is better, and the water clarity wasn't good. But I still had a pretty good time - wish everyone else had as much fun as I did.
We made our way back to Key Largo and our spot on the bay. I gathered up some firewood while Lee & Edie finished up a pork roast that they had been grilling for awhile.
It was our last night together and we had another great evening meal and fire. The sun got swallowed up by the clouds, so there was no farewell sunset. Alas, it was the end of 19 days of boondocking in a very special place with some very special people. Thank you so much Lee & Edie for having us! :)
Tomorrow, we're off to the Flamingo Campground in Everglades National Park for a few days. We're looking forward to some paddling and hiking. Stay tuned to see what we find. :)