Why Do These Things Always Happen to Us?

I hadn’t planned a post since we are holed up in Ft. Myers, Florida, for about a month taking care of a few projects. But then we attempted to rent a car.

Before I tell the tale, I have two things I want to share. First, while we were traveling, we had a group of dolphins join us. I just kept snapping photos. It was magical! Rick had to drive so he missed out. (I think that’s the real reason we are apparently getting an autopilot now.)

We had a couple of visitors off the stern!
We had a couple of visitors off the stern!

I also want to take a moment to tout Rick’s captaining abilities. Nautical Dreamer is 47-feet long, but with the bow pulpit and the swim platform, it’s more like 50. The space the marina held for us was along a dock, in between two other boats. We were told on the phone that it was “tight.” Coming in, we could see it was very tight. Luckily there were several guys on the dock that were willing to help us. Rick nosed into the space and I attempted to throw the line. It fell into the water. I moved a little ways back to try another line and I commented the wind was taking us. We were about to hit the boat behind us, so Rick threw it in reverse to pull out and try again. I, of course, was ready to give up immediately. I suggested we anchor out another night and deal with it the next day when we might not have any wind. Rick ignored me. The guy I was talking with about the wind was the owner of the boat we almost smacked. He decided to get ON his boat to help guide us away from the side of his boat in an attempt at self-preservation. We headed back into the space and I managed to throw the ropes in front and back to the remaining guys on the dock. They pulled us in, Rick killed the motor, and got off to help.

Check out this park job! No bow thrusters; just good captaining.
Check out this park job! No bow thrusters; just good captaining.

Initially, our bow pulpit was literally sticking into the aft deck of the boat in front of us. They adjusted as needed until we were equal distant between the two other boats. Success!  I felt the need to share this, because I often write about our troubles in maneuvering the beast. So there you have it–we can and are successful at times.  Now back to the actual topic of this post: car rentals.

First off, let me say that it’s spring break around these parts, so renting a car is on the expensive side. But we needed to get the lay of the land. We also needed supplies from Home Depot, which was a little too far out of our comfort zone for biking.

We have been using Enterprise on and off since selling our car. Yes, its true, they “pick you up” which is perfect for us. There are some irritating and inconsistent things about Enterprise, however. The first thing we noticed at each location is that their cars are never full of fuel. So you have to bring the car back with the same amount of gas you started with. In theory, not a big deal, but you try to fill up to 3/8th of a tank. So you always end up filling it more than you started with. Its just seems petty of them to do this rather than starting and ending with a full tank. We’ve also noticed they are wildly inconsistent with the abilities of their personnel. We’ve been in highly professional locations where we were picked up in a timely manner and processed with ease. We’ve also had many phone calls saying the driver is lost and asking US (the visitors) how to get to our location. Okay, how would I know? I’m new here. Besides, the entire world uses GPS for directions. In fact cars now come with it. Figure it out, dude.

On the upside, they have a weekend special. Friday to Monday for $9.99 per day. Perfect for us. Unfortunately, this was not available for the weekend we decided to rent, due to Spring Break. So we rented for two days, at $50 per day (ouch!), and crammed all our errands into that time frame.

Having anchored out for the three nights it took to get to Ft. Myers, we decided to walk to Enterprise so we could stretch our legs. It was about a mile and a half. We set the GPS (see Enterprise, it really does work if you use it) and headed out. Rick put his phone in his pocket and we began discussing politics as we are want to do lately. (How could you not?) We started wondering why the GPS lady kept talking. Usually she tells where to turn and is silent until you have to turn again. But she was talking every few seconds. So Rick pulled out his phone. There was a roundabout a ways back and we had ended up passing where we should have headed. Now, I realize this looks really bad after I just berated Enterprise for getting lost, but its not our JOB to get it right like it is for Enterprise. The only people we inconvenienced were ourselves. Plus, I think its quite gutsy of me to admit the mistake.

What should have taken about an hour was more like and hour and a half. But it was a beautiful day and we enjoyed getting out in it. Once there, we saw that there was a fairly long line. The staff handled it expertly and we didn’t have to wait long. But once up to the counter, we learned they had run out of cars. We had a reservation but they had no car for us. Our choice was to wait two hours when one was supposed to come in or accept a panel van with their logo emblazoned on the side. It was quite obvious we weren’t amused, but they did offer to comp the gas, so we took the van.

The first issue I had with the van was that there was no step to help get into the thing. I’m not THAT old, but my legs don’t go that way. There was a hand hold but it was impossibly high and back so I basically had to hurtle myself into the van each time we completed a stop on our errand odyssey. I was not happy. Since it was quite tall I was sure we would flip over every time we took a corner. There were windows on the sides of the front seats and on the back door, but none on the sides. So parallel parking was a bear. Then there was the fact that it was a cargo van. If it wasn’t for the logo on the side I would have worried any nearby kids might run from us shouting “stranger danger!”

Our rental car.
Our rental car.

By far however, the biggest irritant was the fact that there were no passenger seats. It was a true cargo van. Just a giant open abyss behind our bucket seats. Handy if you want to transport a dozen illegals across the border, say, or more likely panels of plywood. But we had empty five gallon jugs of water to exchange and plastic bags of produce from the farmer’s market. We gathered all the produce and kept it at my feet. The water bottles, however, were behind me. We took a corner and, even though Rick was exceptionally cautious, the bottles went flying backwards, smacking into the back door. Then they just rattled around, bouncing off one wall, then the other. I tried turning up the radio to drown out the noise (it always worked when I heard unwelcome rattles in my cars), but to no avail.

Finally, Rick said, “Get ready to catch them,” and hit the brakes particularly hard. The bottles rolled towards me. I grabbed one and placed it between us. Then I reached behind my seat to coax the other to me and placed it behind the first. Now I needed to hold onto the back one and we’d be okay. I forgot a couple times, though, and took my hand off for a minute (it was a long day). I patiently waited for it to roll towards me and retrieved it once again. Eventually, we replaced them with full bottles and the problem took care of itself.

We headed to Home Depot. Ft. Myers residential streets tend to be dead ends at a waterway. I tell you this because the Google lady took us off the main roads into a residential area that wound us everywhere but where we needed to be. We found our own way out eventually and got onto an expressway, at which point she was able to direct us again. (Yes, I see the irony of my previous words.) We finished our shopping and made sure all the bags were tied in a knot so we wouldn’t see a watermelon or cans polyurethane go flying around back there.

When returning the brute, Rick made his displeasure known. The manager overheard and reduced our cost in half. I will say, the next weekend when we needed another car, they redeemed themselves, giving us a brand new truck to haul our plywood. We even used our points, making our out of pocket cost ten bucks! So all in all, not such a bad thing.

Added Bonus Photo: This guy decided to run with us for awhile.
Added Bonus Photo: This guy decided to run with us for awhile.

Voyage Into the Crystal River Abyss

What comes to mind when I say “Crystal River?” Sounds like a nice place, yes? Sounds like clear waters to me. I imagined sunshine, blue skies, the sound of birds. I was going to see manatees as I kayaked around the area. I was so looking forward to Crystal River. I’ve decided, however, that it might be bewitched.

We knew we’d have a long day the day we headed out to Crystal River. We knew as we headed into the inlet to the marina that it could be quite shallow. Rick had done all the calculations and was sure we’d be able to get in. And we did. (Bet you were expecting something else altogether. Go ahead. You can admit it. You had no faith in us.)

We did get in fine, but we had to go very slowly because it was so shallow. Speed up and the back end drops a little, leaving the possibility of the props touching bottom. We hit the inlet at about 5:00 and estimated it would take about an hour further. The sun was setting and as I have reiterated more than once, we don’t operate in the dark. We had until 6:15 or so before the sun would be down and a little while longer before we’d really hit black.

I checked the map. Our marina was the farthest in from the mouth of the inlet. The buoy lines kept us in a narrow channel and the local boats were zipping around us. We passed several marinas, but none were deep enough for our boat. I felt obligated to remind Rick that the sun was dropping (because he couldn’t possibly know, himself).  In fact, I felt it my duty to do so about every ten minutes. God, he’s a patient man. We were following another boat, but they were quite a bit ahead of us and with the twisting and turning of the waterway, we had no visual most of the time.

It took us until about 6:30 before we saw the marina. We had been assigned a specific slip, but couldn’t read any slip numbers. Our friends stopped at the fuel dock to investigate while we hung back. Finally, they waved us to a pier and grabbed our lines as we slipped in. We grabbed their lines as they moved around the corner from us. They explained our designated slip was just wide enough for us, but there was a piling towards the front of the slip that was angled enough to make it impossible for us to fully enter it. We were on a pier again. There was no one in the office this late, so we parked and figured we talk to them in the morning.

Rick and I went about setting up the boat. Rick retied the lines (as he always does). We hooked up the water line but found we couldn’t use the electric; it wasn’t the right amperage. We decided to use the generator for that night and then see what the office said. I was not pleased about paying for a slip and then having to use the generator.

The next day we learned our designated slip was the only spot available for the electric hook-up we needed. We would stay on the pier. In the meantime, we walked to West Marine to see about an pigtail, but none were in stock. We settled for an adapter that would allow us to plug an extension cord into the available electric socket. We plugged it into a power strip for the fridge, coffeemaker and phone cords. That night, we pulled out our camping lantern, but the batteries were dead. We had no other batteries. We had no candles. We used flashlights and the few lights on the 12-volt system that always work regardless of electricity availability. We went to bed early. The next day we were driving to Orlando for a trip to Universal Studios and once back, we would be leaving. So, it wasn’t quite as bad as it could have been. Or so I thought. Bwa-ha-ha-ha!

Upon our return, the waves were at 4-6 feet offshore, which was more than we wanted to battle. So, we stayed another day. Then, the bottom dropped out. The wind switched to the Northeast and pushed the water out of the basin. We were literally sitting on the bottom in mud. The keel kept our props safe and being tied to the dock kept us upright in just a few feet of water. But here’s the thing. To run the generator AND TO FLUSH THE TOILET, we needed to draw water in. So, no more generator and no toilet flushing until the tide came up. Unfortunately, we realized this the hard way by flushing the toilet and having mud fill the toilet bowl. Sigh. Talking with people from Crystal River, we learned this periodically happened, but that this was the worst they’d ever seen. Lucky us. When the tide did come up, it wasn’t enough to safely navigate out. For six days, we waited for the wind to shift. Six days of waking up and having to walk to the communal bathroom, or wait until the tide rose to “go.” (As an aside, I don’t understand why so many of my posts revolve around bathrooms.)

We did order an adapter that allowed us to plug in and have some power (30 amps instead of 100 amps), giving us the ability to cook, watch TV, and take hot showers. We just couldn’t do everything at once. It took planning. If I wanted to shower at night, I needed to turn on the water heater. To do that, I needed to be done with the oven and wait about a half hour. Argh! It was a pain. Still, we got into a routine.

Then the toilets stopped flushing properly even at high tide. Was the mud clogging it up? Nope. One of the house batteries was almost dead. Rick charged it, but it lost that charge overnight. We weren’t sure if it was the battery or the on-board charger reading it wrong. After much deliberation, we decided we needed to suck it up and buy a new battery. West Marine didn’t stock it. The marina parts store didn’t stock it. Rick found one at Napa Auto Parts.

Friends offered to help remove the old one. This was no easy task. The battery weighed, I’m guessing, about 100 pounds. It was under the floors in the engine room. To gain access, Rick crawled to it and dragged it to the open hatch. He took one side, Joe took the other, and they hoisted it onto a step and then to the floor of the main salon onto a furniture pad. They dragged the pad/battery across the floor to the stair that lead to the aft deck. Again, each took a side and they hoisted it up each step and onto a furniture pad on the aft deck. They dragged it to the door and hoisted it off the boat. When you need low tide it’s not there, so the drop from the deck to the pier gave them pause. Eventually, it was off the boat and on a borrowed dolly. Only a few injuries; Rick cut himself and Joe pulled something in his leg.

It was off to Napa, followed by the reverse to place the new one. I did not witness this, as I went to the laundromat where I was treated to the sights of a barefoot man hauling six jumbo garbage bags of clothes through the place. When I returned, we had a new battery in place and all was right in toilet land (except, of course, for the unresolved low tide issue).

Shortly after that, the communal bathroom ran out of TP. And some jackass missed the toilet bowl. And our refrigerator went out. Dead.  At first, I was a little giddy. I get a new refrigerator! I HATED the old one. It was some off brand. It was tiny. And white. We measured our space. I just had to find one that fit into the space. Sigh. Irritatingly difficult. It would still be an “apartment” size, but I could get a black or stainless one. I found a Fridgidare (name brand—score!). Home Depot’s website said it was in stock (double score!). We hitched a ride with our friends.

Here’s the thing: Home Depot LIES on their website. They didn’t have that refrigerator. They didn’t have ANY refrigerator that fit our space. (This happened once before when I tried to buy a convection oven that was on sale. It may have been on sale, but it wasn’t in stock.). They couldn’t get it in time for us.

We knew in two days we’d have the winds we needed to get out of the hellishness that Crystal River had turned into for us. We weren’t waiting for a delivery on a refrigerator. We’d have one delivered when we got to Ft. Myers. Our friends came to the rescue once again, loaning us several heavy-duty coolers for storage.

We had been checking weather, wind, and tides for days and saw our opportunity open for Wednesday. Tuesday night we double-checked and were disturbed to note the possibility of fog (now that the wind was gone). But we couldn’t leave until nine or so anyway, because it would be normal low tide until then making the channel inaccessible to us. We went to bed, hoping for the best.

Wednesday morning was bright and windless. We were sucking mud, but were hoping to leave on time. We finally left at 10:20, which meant we’d make Shell Island (a very shallow area) in time for high tide and our destination before sunset. Perfect. Things were looking up.


Leaving Crystal River

Our itinerary for this next leg is as follows:

Wednesday, March 8, 2017: Leave Crystal River, FL traveling to anchorage near Tarpon Springs, FL (which is near Clearwater, FL).

Thursday, March 9, 2017: Travel from Tarpon Springs, FL to Long Boat Key, FL (near Sarasota, FL) to anchor overnight.

Friday, March 10, 2017: Leave Long Boat Key to Ft. Myers, FL. Here we plan to stay for about a month to get some work done on the boat.