Reminiscing

The story lives on.  With a follow up from WKYC Channel 3 here.  And a surprise painting done by Rena seen on her blog.  Maybe Jon will even get on here to tell the story of our arrival into Key West one of these days…..

Thanksgiving

Better late than never, right? I hit the ground running for Thanksgiving vacation 2009. My Aunt Nancy and Uncle Ron were nice enough to drive me across Florida to meet up with Tom in Vero Beach. That was Friday November 20th. My crewing experience begins. We set out early Saturday morning after a quick breakfast, which little did I know, would be my last “breakfast breakfast” that I would have for a while. Tom’s a good teacher—I know what port, starboard, bow, centerboard and stern mean now. I also know how important wind and the current can be while two people are trying to row in a 19ft. boat called “Not for Sail”. (haha) First thing to go on me was my butt… sore that is. I don’t know how Tom has done this since June! The nicest thing was meeting, eating with, and conversing with so many really nice people. Tom seemed to attract only the nicest people. (One girl he attracted was too nice. And thought that his age of 26 was “perfect”) @_@. I’ll always remember the man that “tried” to row with sticks and said that his problem was he had “no fancy orange tips on his oars”. Or, when the storm was coming and that girl that pointed saying “don’t you see what you’re heading into?!” And the shower that was put in the bathroom stall at the church! Oh, and I taught one thing to Tom—how to attract dolphins to the boat by tapping on the side of it. Well, being Tom’s youngest 1st mate was a lifetime experience. Even at the end of my part of the journey in Jupiter, the close call with the solar panel was intense. The hot tub at Cheryl and Ron’s was relaxing and just what we needed. (Well at least me). Tom, thank you for inviting me onboard and like we were saying, we will talk more at family gatherings cause we know each other better.

-Nate Moore

P.S. My mom says she loves your blue and white Florida shirt!  Tom “Sawyer” Kotula—you da man!

Miami and the final frontier

Its hard to believe that we just had July in Christmas – it was 80degs!  To help get into the Christmas spirit here in Key West we had to close the blinds so as not to see the swimming pool and palm trees out back, turn on a YouTube video of a fireplace playing through the tv, a 2ft tree up, and had Christmas music playing.  It was great to be able to celebrate for many reasons with both friends and family around!

Danielle, Keith and Nicholas Ott + Tom

Picking up from what seems like ages ago back when I was still in Boynton Beach:  Keith picked me up and from Trish’s and took me home to meet his wife Danielle and 14month old son Nicholas.  They grilled up some of the best burgers I’ve ever had and enjoyed an evening of interesting conversation.  Decided to take the next day off from rowing as they were calling for 20-25mph south winds.  I slept in and read in the morning until my neighbor Tom drove in around 12.  Danielle fed us some delicious fish chowder before Tom and I headed out to do some sight seeing in the area.  We made sure to get home in time for dinner and had another enjoyable night hanging out as if they were old friends.  Thursday morning Keith drove us to the boat and we rowed almost 20mi into some pretty steady head wind.  Tom picked up fast, I think his practice on the erg before coming must have paid off.  We arrived at the Hidden Harbor Marina that Keith manages in Pompano by around 3 and he showed us around the impressive new marina.

Docked at Hidden Harbor Marina

From there we ran to Delray Beach to meet Danielle and Nicholas and watch the Christmas tree lighting.  Got there just in time to see them turn it on and then ate and walked around.  Got to spend one more night at the Ott’s before saying goodbye.  Thanks for everything, hope to see you back in Cleveland sometime soon.

Friday Tom and I had a pretty tough 20mi row with the winds and currents mainly against us all day.  Started the day off with some heavy rain which left us wet for awhile.  The only thing to take our mind off the intense physical strain was the eye candy lining both sides of the river.  No, there weren’t girls out cheering us on, there were beautiful mansions all throughout this stretch.  Each one bigger than the next with every variety of architecture and landscaping.  It was also nice to know that waiting at the end of the day was a dock slip at Hi-Lift in Aventura.  This marina is partnered with Keith’s, so he was able to set us up.

Saturday weather was calling for more south winds and good chance of rain.  We decided we were still ahead of schedule so we could afford another day off.  We spent the day walking to the mall, movie theater, church, and of course eating plenty of food:)

Tom Rapinz with Miami skyline

Sunday brought a cold front (60′s) and some favorable north winds.  We rowed into downtown miami and enjoyed the sites of the high rise buildings and cruise ships (thankfully docked).  Harry Horgan and crew from “Miami Shake a leg” rode out in a boat with a camera man from Fox news.  They interviewed us and escorted us to their docks were they would let us stay while in town.  It was impressive to see what they do for the community, check out there web site for more info.  While we were rowing, my Dads friend from highschool, Jamie, was picking up my friend Dan Kevar from the airport.  I should back this story up a few months to when I was rowing on the Cape Fear river:  I got a call from Jamie and his sister Nina telling me that they had called my house to try and reconnect with my Dad after almost 20yrs.  To their shock my mom told them that he had passed away two years ago from cancer.  She also told them about my trip and they called me to say that they would love to meet up and help in any way they could when I got near their homes in Miami.  And help they did!  Sunday night we went to Jamie’s house and ate a great meal cooked by Jacqueline and daughter Annie.  The three of us stayed the night there and then we all drove into the everglades to go alligator hunting.  The drive around loop road was definitely an adventure and we saw lots of gators!

Jaime clearing the way into loop road

Gator Hunting

Monday night we went to Nina’s apartment to have a little more room for us to spread out.  Steve Glowacki (first mate through NC) drove in tonight to build the current Habitat Crew to 4 members.  Tuesday the 4 of us went to Habitat to help work on one of their large construction projects.  They are preparing the foundations for a blitz build coming up where they will be building 10 homes in 10 days!  So down in the trenches we went to get the metal re-barb set in place.  There was a little learning curve for all of us except Steve who has actually worked for a concrete company for a while last summer.  Most Habitat locations contract out this type of work, but the folks here are hard working and were up for the extra challenge to help save the home owners some money.

Lunch Break. Left to right: Tom R, Dan K, Steve and Tom K

Fox News came out on site to do more filming so they could show both the rowing and habitat side of this trip. ( It aired that night and we were subsequently spotted around town as the “rowers” for the next few days. I don’t have a link to it yet but will post it when it comes through)  After work  we went to South Beach to do a little swimming and walking the beach.  Got some good Cuban food for dinner which included my favorite, platanos fritos.  From there we walked around Lincoln street to check out the night life before heading back to Nina’s place.

Weds morning Tom had to start his drive back north.  Steve Dan and I had a couple hours to kill before going to Habitat because they were still digging out the the foundation for the next house.  We went to Sailorman in Ft. Lauderdale to find maps for the last leg of the trip through the Keys.  We met Chuck the owner who not only donated maps to us but also gave us some cool T-shirts!  While there I randomly ran into Scott whom we had met many months ago on the Erie Canal!  After a quick interview there by a boating newspaper, we headed over to Habitat to lay more re-barb and also pour cement at the house we were working on yesterday.  We waited around for the second cement truck to finish up the day and then we went to the boat to sort things out to so we could fit 3 rowers aboard.  Jacquiline and Annie invited us back for dinner again, a hard offer for guys with our appetites to refuse.  While we were there the girls gave Steve a haircut to fit a movie star.

We planned to row out on thursday, but we made a last minute call to hold off a day due to weather conditions.  It was going to be a long 30+ mi row across Biscayne Bay before hitting land so we wanted to plan it right.  Plus with Nina’s kind offer to stay as long as we like, a day of rest (and eating lots of food) was to be had.  Nina took us to breakfast at Denny’s and not long after we got back we were headed out again to get the largest subs ever for lunch!  We tried to swim off the fullness in the pool at her complex, but the hunger hadn’t returned in time for dinner.  We decided to take it light for dinner by going to an all you can eat (salad) buffet.  Thanks for the great day of rest and feasting, Nina, it was great!

Nina's apartment

Ok, Friday morning – get to the docks by 6:30am, load and go.  Jaime was there to send us off and get some more film clips of rowing off into the early morning light.  Today is a special treat, 3 rowers onboard.  Having never rowed before, Dan got baptized by fire as he tried to learn in some rougher than usual conditions.  The 15mph wind and subsequent waves were partially moving in our direction, it was still choppy.  Oh yeah and add to that dark skys and heavy rain on and off all day.  By sundown we covered 33mi and pulled in tight to the leaward of a small cove and set a couple anchors to ensure we got a hold into the grassy bottom.  The hope to try and fit three people on board for the night was to have someone(with the short straw) sleep out on the deck.  But with the rain we knew we had to all fit in the cabin.  It was a tight squeeze but managed to shove Steve in the bow with Dan on the port berth and myself on starboard.

Plenty of room

Saturday morning we started rowing with more choppy conditions.  We only did 7mi to get us to North Key Largo and decided to stop when we got a txt from Dan and Bethany that they had arrived in Key West yesterday and were driving back through with Bethany’s parents and wanted to stop and see us as well as some other boaters we had all met back in GA.  So by 9am we found ourselves docked behind Cathrine and Rainer’s “Perlita” at Gilberts marina.  They boated down from Toronto and where staying docked here for the winter.  Dan, Bethany and her parents arrived shortly there after and we all had a chance congratulate them on the completion of there AWESOME trip! They had to continue on their drive home to NC, while we grabbed a place under a Tiki hut to have lunch.  Dan picked up his rental car and we used it to check out some of Key Largo.  Dan and I went to church and then Cathrine and Rainer cooked us a great pork chop dinner!

Christmas boat parade

Continuing with the good timing – that night was the Christmas boat parade that ended at our marina!  It was a very delightful evening and an exciting start to my trip down the Keys.

Sunday morning Dan drove us back to Steves car in Miami while he drove to Orlando to meet with his cousin and then fly back home.  We got back to the boat by 9am, loaded Steves bike and then headed out.  With the sun warmly shining I felt like I was in the tropics as we rowed past dotted islands and listened to rhythms of  salsa music playing over the radio.  Anchoring for lunch provided a chance to relax and try out my goggles in some clear waters.  The days 20mi flew by before tying up to Laura’s dock: another person who heard of us from a friend of a friend of a friend.  To our delight she drove us to dinner and gave us a room at the hotel down the road!  To add to the evening, Bill and Lyn Penn picked us up and took us to their winter house just down the road to visit for a bit.  They are from Cleveland and had heard of our trip back when we left.  They had been following our journey all along, and decided to contact us if we actually made it this far.

The next morning Bill woke up early to pick us up from the hotel and bring us over for breakfast cooked by Lyn.  We had a quick 16mi row getting us into Sea Bird Marina on Long Key by 12.  I accidentally left my laptop at the hotel that morning, so Bill and Lyn were kind enough to pick it up and bring it to me at the marina.  We spent the afternoon planning the last sections of the trip and catching up on my journal and blog.

Dotted Islands

Tuesday was another ideal day in the Keys.  I couldn’t ask for more than to wake up on a boat with perfect weather and just be able to eat some food and start rowing.  By 11am we covered 15mi and set anchor in 5ft of water leeward of Bamboo Key.  Thankfully we had goggles as we swam ashore to explore the uninhabited island or else we probably would have stepped on the huge lobster in our path.  We hiked around the overgrown and bird filled land and saw a couple nurse sharks in the shallow waters.  With only 5 more miles to finish for the day, we were in no rush to pull anchor away from this piece of paradise.  However, little did we know that we would be docking in an oasis all its own for the night.   From another chain of friends of friends, Mitch helped us find a place to dock at Muffets house in Marathon.  Muffet and Mitch were waiting at the docks for us when we arrived and helped us tie up and made us feel as welcome as at home.  Muffet’s house/yard was filled with her self built handy work everywhere.  From custom outdoor tables, kithen, hot tub and benches, to her “boat house” that was just big enough for a desk, microwave, tv, fridge and a bed that lowered out of the ceiling!

Jon and Dan drove in with the trailer at 9pm finishing their 2day drive from Cleveland.  Muffet cooked us a delicious stake dinner and we all enjoyed sitting outside at her beautiful place!  I was excited to have Dan and Jon back to help finish the row, but also because it means that I can stop blogging about the details now and let Jon pick up the end of the logistical story from here!

I want to thank everyone who has supported us in your own way.  There are hundreds -maybe a thousand of you out there who we already knew or met along the way who have helped shape this journey into what its been.  Everything from constructing the boat, a place to dock, a bed or even a whole house to sleep in, home cooked meals and fancy dinners, navigational advice, a passing hello, an encouraging email, a prayer, media coverage, monetary support, volunteering with us at Habitat, a car ride, local knowledge, friendly companionship, and especially pulling on the oars for a mile or more.  Each of you have made the difference and has opened my eyes to the extreme kindness and generosity that is not normally known.  I am truly blessed to have been able to do this trip and hope that it will encourage others to follow their own dreams with the confidence that they only need to take the first step and God will guide the rest.  There have been countless encounters on this trip where things came together like clockwork that I could never have choreographed on my own.  All of this has definitely built my Faith and given me confidence for future endeavors; for this, I thank you all.

Speaking of the future, I should answer the common question “whats next after you get to Key West?”.  Well I’ve already done what I told most of you: “celebrate Christmas with friends and family!”.   (I hope Jon will fill you in on some of those wonderful details in his blog).  To answer the real question – I will be returning to Ohio (by means of a car and trailer!) and will be working with my Uncle Jim on an engineering project at the AFC, a Catholic non-profit organization in Bloomingdale OH.  I’m looking forward to life on solid ground for at least a little while and to put my ME degree back into official use.

Many thanks,
Tom Kotula
Captain of the Conch Republic Navy Gally Fleet

Goodbye

KEY WEST!!!!

Today, December 17th at 3:30pm eastern standard time, a 19ft rowing vessel approached Key West Bight marina with excited crew on board.  Having traveled approximately 2300mi from Cleveland Ohio over the course of 6.5 months; WEEEEEEEE   MAAAAAAAADDDDDDEEEEEE   IIIIIITTTTTTTTT!!!!!!!!!!!!

There will be an official welcome into Key West tomorrow at 11:00am at the docks behind Turtle Kraals Restaurant located at 231 Margaret st.  It would be great to see anyone there that can make it.

More details of the final leg of this trip will be coming soon.

Capt. Tom

The final countdown

Don’t worry I’m not writing to brag about the warm weather to all those freezing up north.  Although there has been record heat well into the 8o’s!  It has been a wirlwind of activity going on since I last wrote.  The problem is that the more that is going on here, the more I want to tell you all about, but the less time that I have to write about it.  As I start counting down the days of arrival using only one hand, there is a lot of logistical planing going on, and I don’t have the time now to update you on the past couple weeks.  I promise to fill in the juicy details later.  For now let me just say that I am thoroughly enjoying the Keys and am happily docked on Long Key for the night with first mate Steve onboard.  My brother Dan and Jon will be driving in tomorrow to meet us in Marathon to help row the last couple of days.  Expected arrival into Key West set for Friday – but still pending on weather and whether or not I want this trip to ever end.  Will try to do a couple more quick updates before arrival to keep everyone in the loop.

So long for now!
Tom

Real Beds

I’m back to continue my report on generosity!  I’ve been living the high life for the last couple of weeks – you won’t find too much mention of canned food in this blog :)

Picking right up from were I left off in New Smyrna on that Sat afternoon so long ago:  I was quickly informed that I came on the right day because it was the Marina’s monthly smorgasbord!  All sorts of great food and friendly people wanting to hear my story and even offering advise and places to stay further down the road!

Fishing along the side of the ICW

Sunday I left at sun up and ran with the current 10mi until it opened into mosquito lake (thankfully no bugs today!).  The tide was supposed to switch back on me after the first couple hours but thanks to the wide water there was no current.  The N. wind was with me until the afternoon, but then started switching to the NE and making waves across my port side.  Just as this wind change happened I soon had to take a starboard turn to go through a canal and cut SW therefore having the wind right with me again!  With this wind I was really cranking out the miles and I found myself  being welcomed at the Tittusville Munciple marina (i could write a whole blog about the kind people I met there!) by 4pm after having covered 33mi!! wOw, longest solo day yet!  Well not exactly solo, I had the best First Mate that day (and everyday)!  One whose been known to walk on water and control the winds and seas, guiding me through those miles!  Thanks Jesus!

My Aunt Nancy and Uncle Ron were in FL this week on Vac from Clev and had planned to meet up with me the next day.  When I told them I got in a day early they dropped there plans in Tampa and drove across the state to take me to a entertaining dinner at Dixie Crossroads and a night in a REAL BED at hotel.  Why was there such a huge crowd there?? Space shuttle Atlantis was set to launch at 2:28pm tomorrow!!  Nice timing for us to see the launch!  It was VERY nice to see family again, especially after being out here solo for the last couple of weeks :)

Monday morning after an early continental breakfast, my Aunt jumped aboard for a days row to Cocoa fl.  Not going to mention a ladies age, but for being the oldest first mate of the trip she picked up the rowing technique fast.  It was a nice calm day with some following winds making for an good morning to enjoy the water and good company :)  We pulled into the Cocoa village marina where we were given dockage and a great view from their deck to watch Atlantis blast off!

Atlantis Blastoff!!

While we were on the water, Uncle Ron was busy on land finding us another nights accommodation and local place for dinner.  Although todays row wasn’t too hard, I was very tired (probably from the past few days of high mileage) so me and Aunt Nancy took naps before going to dinner at “Florida Seafood”.  Again there were long lines due to people in town for the launching, but it was well worth the wait for some great seafood!

The next 3 days I had to row solo again:   First day was 21mi and I was pooped. just pulled off the side and anchored out to sleep.  This is the one dinner in the past 2weeks that I ate from a can – refried beans and corn with crackers.
The next day I was still dragging so I called it early after 15mi and pulled in to the Sebastian River marina.  They could hardly believe how far I had rowed and said that any one #$@% crazy enough to row that far deserved a free nights stay!  Found a pizza deal across the street for dinner and did a little emailing and guitar playing before calling it a night.
Thursday I started out at 6:15am to take advantage of the early morning calm winds.  Was a little more upbeat row today because I knew that once I got to Vero beach tonight I would have the next day off to wait for my next partner.  The 18mi went pretty fast and I pulled into the Vero Beach Munciple Marina where I was lucky to get a dock because the place was crowded with boats everywhere, moorings tied 3 wide on both sides of the river.  There were a lot of familiar boats here that I’ve seen passing me over the last couple of weeks.  Notable re-encounters with “Fortnight” and “Shearwater”.  I promptly took a shower – they always feel great when you haven’t had one for 3 days! worked on the computer and then walked down the road to dinner.

Friday.  Finally a day of rest!  much needed I was getting worn out!  Took it easy, but stayed busy working on boat maintenance things and misc.  I was given some great beef soup for lunch by one of the many friendly boaters around.  They all started to take up a collection for my dock fee but then Tim the manager said there was no charge.  Thanks everyone!  Nate (my cousins cousin) was being driven by my Aunt Nancey and Uncle Ron who were still in FL and willing to assist again!  I walked around the beach and the streets of mostly closed stores while I waited for them to get here for an 8:30 dinner.  I tried finding something to eat to hold me over, but the pizza shop didn’t sell slices and the deli was closed.  As I rounded the corner of a back street I came across “laughing dog” art gallery which was open.  I stepped in to find that they had all kinds of interesting art.  As if finding this gem to browse through wasn’t enough, they offered me wine and said that in the other room there was food!!  Wow, what a perfect way to wait for dinner – good art, free wine and delicious trays of food!  I guess my timing was just right as they were having a special open house event tonight only!  When Nate came we all went out to dinner, making this the 3rd nice dinner I had with Aunt Nancy and Uncle Ron in the past week, plus I got another nights sleep in a hotel.

Sat – From my oldest First Mate a couple days before to now my youngest, 15yr old Nate.  He picked up quick and we had a nice easy row of 14mi to Ft. Peirce.  On the way we saw this guy trying to row with sticks as oars….. good thing he wasn’t trying to get to Key West!

Rowing with sticks

We pulled into Harbor town marina with the usual confused stares and numerous questions.  They were quick to give us a nice quite slip away from the bar noise.  Me and Nate walked into town and went to church at the “Notre Dame Mission” and headed straight back to the docks as we had been invited to diner :)  A group of boaters were grilling steaks on the docks with sides of great conversation.  We had an enjoyable evening and were sent away with leftovers plus bags of fruit!

If I had to describe Sunday with two word I would say “full pressure”!  The day started off calm, but soon turned against us.  Large dark rain clouds were headed straight for us, but we knew we had to press on.  In a comical moment before the storm, a small boat with two ladies on flew past heading away from the clouds pointing back towards it with body language that said “don’t you see that coming!?”.  The rain came and went with the canopy keeping us mainly dry. Then the winds picked up from the south slowing us way down.  We pulled the canopy down taking the risk of getting wet to try and reduce wind drag.  That helped a little but we had to push on forever crawling along.  We saw some water spouts way off in the distance but only got a little more rain for the remainder of the day.

Water Spout

It was a tough day for me, so I’ve got to take my hat off to Nate who hung in there through those 18mi on his second day ever rowing.  We finally got into the Four Fish marina and walked the mile to the nearest restaurant for some well deserved burgers :)

Monday conditions were a lot calmer and we cruised through the 19mi before 2pm with not much sweat.  Pulling into Intermarine in Jupiter, we docked and ate lunch.  last night Jon called me and told me that a lady that his mom works with lives down in the Palm Beach area and offered us a place to stay.  I called Cheryl Warner to find out where she lived and let her know I would be in the area tomorrow.  She was excited to hear from me and said that her house wasn’t far from were we docked and that she would send her brother over to pick us up right away.  Lee picked us up and we instantly connected with adventure stories since he canoed all the way around florida back in the 70′s!  It was a different state back then for sure!  He took us to Cheryl’s office at Florida Bolt and Nut where they were busy moving into this new location.  We went out to dinner with Cheryl, her husband Ron, brother Lee and his son Mathew.  It was an enjoyable meal and just the start of a weeks worth of great meals that they treated me to.

Ron drove us back to the marina Tues morning so we could row to Cheryl’s sister Brenda’s house which was only 8mi away and on a fresh water canal just off the ICW.  We had to get there at low tide to just barely get under a bridge and then we were lifted up over a wall and into the canal.  John was there to help and we got tided in nicely right in their back yard.  Cheryl and Mathew came to pick us up and we all got lunch before they dropped us off at the house to relax while they had to go back to work.  When Ron came home he turned on the hot tub and Nate and I jumped in until it was time to go to dinner at a Thai restaurant – mmm more good food!

I went to Habitat on Weds and helped clean up scrap wood and organize the rest.  The Palm Beach Habitat is on their 17th house in one development with more planned in the same area.  Once the rain started coming down harder, we went into a storage unit to sort out paint and other supplies.  One of the volunteers, Phil, gave me a drive back to the Warner’s home.  Nates mom, Erleen, drove in today to pick him up.  We had a quick chance to visit before they had to get back on the road for a long drive back home.  Thanks for coming Nate, it was great having you on board!

Nate and Tom docked at Brenda and Johns house

Happy Thanksgiving!  Ron is a board member for Salvation Army, so he was able to connect me with them in the morning to help distribute food to the homeless.  It was great to be able to jump in and be apart of that as well as to learn about all the other work that they do in the community!  Until a couple days ago I thought I would be eating canned turkey by myself, but hear I was invited to Brenda and Johns house to for a feast of a feast with their whole family.  They made me feel so welcome that is was almost like being with my own family.  I didn’t mind not being with my own family because I know I will get to see all of them soon in Key West for Christmas!!

The next few days were spent mainly relaxing around the house with them ensuring that I was well fed at every meal,  just what the doctor ordered!  Some highlights include getting a city tour from Ron, going to a fine italian dinner thanks to Neal McGuiness, going to breakfast and church with Cheryl’s mom, setting up their Christmas tree and decorations, and eating some great home cooking including another turkey feast!  I also had some good time to catch up on my journal and start this blog.

Setting up the Christmas Tree with Cheryl and Ron Warner

Monday I did a short 8mi to take the tide to the palm beach inlet and docked at the Sailfish Marina thanks to Regina (from New Smyrna) for setting this up!  Lee came and picked me up to take me back to the Warners.  On the way he shared some more unbelievable stories from adventure hes been on.  He definitely gave me some good ideas for my bucket list!  I had one last delicious meal with Cheryl and Ron and then called it a night.  It’s been a week since they invited me into their home and I’ve had such a great time with them!  I’m gonna definitely miss their nightly ritual of eating a piece of frozen dark chocolate :)  I thought I was going to sleep on the boat tonight because I needed to get an early start rowing in the morning (tides), but Ron offered to wake up at 5:30am to get me there, so I spent one last night at their house.

Ron drove me to the boat docks this morning at 5:30 as planned.  Besides Ron’s generosity and contagious laugh, I can’t forget to mention that he LOVES cinnamon!  I caught the current just right and had a great row arriving at my cousin’s (Ken and Kristen) friend’s (Keith Ott) cousin’s (Bob) friend’s (Trish) house with a dock just off the ICW.  Ya thats 4 deg of separation! That 6deg of separation theory must be true!

Looking ahead-
Staying a the Ott’s house tonight and waiting out the predicted 25mph south winds tomorrow.  My neighbor Tom will be joining me for thursdays row until we get to Miami hopefully by Sat.

Cheers,
Tom

Quote of the Month:
A dead thing can go with the stream…but only a living thing can go against it.
-G. K. Chesterton

F L O R I D A !!!!

“I’m in FLORIDA!! Woohooooo!!”  I shouted out loud with no one to hear but the birds.  I was rowing solo and had just passed Red buoy #32, the Florida state line.   I couldn’t stop smiling for the next few minutes as I thought through all the events that had got me to that point.  I didn’t need to pinch myself to know this was actually real, the pains of rowing solo for a couple days made the point clear.  It was almost exactly a year ago that Jon and I bought the boat and started planning for this trip, but could never have imagined then what it would be like out here.P1030337

Monday morning I worked at Habitat filling holes with putty and painting over them.  I was back at James’ house working with 3 other happy volunteers.   As usual on site, we all enjoyed talking the day away as we worked.  I was most impressed by Dan who just graduated from highschool and was taking time off to volunteer and as I type this should be in Bolivia by now working at an orphanage.  Kelly came by to pick me up, took me for my last (land) lunch and took me to my boat.  She and two Habitat volunteers came to the docks to see me off.  I set off at 1:30 with a gentle following wind and currents in my favor.  Perfect conditions to get used to rowing solo for the first time.  I was actually looking forward to some time out on the water alone as long as the conditions were fair.  First challenge would be to cross St. Andrews sound, which some claim to be one of the roughest on the east coast… Lucky for me the winds were favorable and I timed the currents just right so I got there at slack tide and the currents switched in my favor just as I was crossing over the middle of the sound (the channel is east of the island and in the ocean at that point).  A few choppy waves were all I had to deal with and I was my way south of the inlet.  With the recent set back of the clocks, I didn’t have much time before it would get dark.  The wind had increase from the North a little and I wanted to find somewhere sheltered to anchor for the night.  Nothing great was around so after 13.6mi and it getting hard to see, I pulled off the channel outside of a bend and anchored out.  It wasn’t an ideal location so close to the ICW but it would do, usually no one is out boating at night right?  I turned on the anchor light, ate some canned food, and went to sleep.  Next thing I remember is a dream of being in rough water blending with reality as the boat violently rocked side to side!  I looked out the window and saw the stern of a tug which had just passed throwing off a big wake.  Checked my position at anchor and was now pointing the opposite direction as when I went to sleep, just as should be, the tide was now flowing out.  Go back to bed, I still have a few more hours for the tide to turn and the sun to come up.

Day 2 solo:
Wake up and get ready for anything.  Don’t wanna have to leave my seat, with no one to man the oars, until I stop.  Map, marine radio, GPS, extra batteries, 6 refilled water bottles, hat, sunglasses, camera, a few power bars and two pre-made PBJ sandwiches all on the deck at my side.  The wind was still from the North and the current was in my favor!  Made great time for the first hour but started to slow as slack tide approached and I got closer to the next inlet.  It got choppy for awhile and as the waterway turned, the wind was blowing across my port side.  As I continued on the currents began to increase in my favor sucking me towards the florida boarder with speeds increasing to 5mph!  That recent full moon was creating extra high tides and therefore faster currents.  It was here that I entered Florida just as I was crossing the sound approaching Fernandina Beach.  Well as fast as the current was carrying me towards that inlet, thats how much it wanted me to keep going out as I tried to make my way south.  Now the opposing currents and following wind were in a fight and stirring up some white caps.  My GPS battery died, but I couldn’t take my hands off the oar long enough to switch them out.  I was glad to have the wind on my side through this fight, but without a tide switch for another 5hrs I decided it was pointless to keep going.   I pulled into the Fernandina Harbor Marina where I was warmly welcomed a place to stay for the night.  It was only 12:00 and didn’t want to stop for the day so soon, but I had gone 17mi already so I figured I would take the chance to rest.

I walked the shop lined streets, browsing in and out.  I found a library where I could sit and write and the day quickly turned to night.  Back at the boat, I met Walt who had seen me rowing in the waves earlier.  He was very interested in my trip so I asked if he wanted to join me for a few days.  He was interested, but needed to check with his boss and get back to me in the morning.  I walked to the Marina Seafood Restaurant for dinner and enjoyed the food as much as the friendly staff.

Weds morning started with a real shower and boat oats.  Walt wasn’t able to make it so it was time to prepare for another solo row.  With the tides with me and another day of steady 10+mph N. winds I started out fast with the incoming tide.  Then came the approaching Nassau sound which I got to just as the tides switched.  Fought the currents until I made it half way to St. Johns river which began pulling me along at high speeds.  As I crossed over the strong currents of St. Johns, my gps battery died again!  Why does it keep quitting at such crucial points??  Without the GPS to tell me my speed, I felt like I was standing still as I tried to push my way against the currents on the south end of the inlet.  If i stopped rowing for even a few strokes to take a sip of water I would move backwards!!   How long was this going to last, it should be approaching slack tide by now right? If I can just go 7 more miles ontop of the 23 I already did I could make it to the Jacksonville beach marina….. 3 more hrs till total darkness… I can make it!  After a disheartening first 30min of the fight I could tell i only moved a few hundred yards- i couldn’t have been moving faster than 1/2 mph.  i was tempted to just throw anchor there, but knew by the time I could get to the anchor I would probably drift into the bank or run aground.  I decided the only way out of this was to go into sprint mode for awhile.  “Power 10″ after “Power 10″ i could tell I was gaining a little speed.  Once I made it around a bend the water widened out the current slowed and I could rest long enough to change batteries.  That helped, now I knew I was moving almost 2mph.  This kept up for a while as I kept praying for the current to change.  Just as I thought it might be slowing down i approached a bridge where the narrowing river caused the current to rip full force against me again – time for another all out sprint, thankfully only for about a hundred feet through and then on the other side it slowed down again.  By this time the sun was closing in on the horizon so I picked up the pace and was able to cruise into the marina right at last light.  I was greeted by two friendly sailors, Linda and Vince, who invited me on their boat (that Vince had built himself) for some chili.  They were both retired teachers from Canada and were able to offer advise on some of the waterways ahead.  After a pleasant visit, exhausted from the 30mi day, I went to bed.

I was ready for a day off, but with more strong 10-15 mph N. winds predicted I knew I needed to take advantage.   Got on the oars around 7:30am and carried the current for awhile.  There wasn’t another inlet until St. Augustine (30mi away) so in the middle of the day the currents weren’t too strong in either direction.  As I got closer to St. Aug the currents began to flow out and help me out the rest of the day.  The wind did pick up strength as the day went on and helped me out as long as I was going due South.  Sometime the waterway takes sharp bends and when 15mph winds are cutting across you its no fun. Good thing I can drop the centerboard down to keep from drifting off course too much.  The day literally flew by and I cruised into Camachee Cove Yacht Harbor (just north of St. Augustine) by around 3:30!  28mi just like that!  Man its nice to have the wind and currents with you!  Everyone at Camachee was super friendly and said I could stay as long as I liked!  And guess who they had me dock next too? Dan and Bethany, the crazy kayakers!  I had caught back up to them!  They weren’t around so I went to dinner myself at the adjacent Kingfish Grill and called it a night.

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View of St. Aug from atop the fort

Friday morning Dan and Bethany were on the docks by 8am and ready to paddle as they had already been here for a couple days.  I thought it would be fun to row along side of them but really wanted to take some time off to see the city, work with Habitat, and rest up since I was a couple days ahead of schedule now.  Their friends who dropped them off gave me a ride into the city a couple miles away.  I spent the whole day being a hardcore tourist, checking out all the great things of St. Augustine!  There is a lot of history being the oldest city in N. America.  Its a beautiful town with much Spanish influences.  The narrow shop lined streets and interesting architecture everywhere, all set along the bay on a warm sunny day made for a great setting.  I checked out museums, colleges, forts, wineries, churches, shops and a small Greek Orthodox shrine just of St. George st.P1030372 At that shrine I met Gina who had recently got back from a stay at a monastery in Greece.  We talked for a while and said maybe we would run into each other later at the art walk downtown.  I went to an Organ recital at the Basilica (and oldest parish in n. America) and then started walking around the art galleries.  I heard Gina shout my name from the tourist train on the street and jumped aboard as it started to roll away.  The train looped through the city and stopped at all the art galleries.  We talked and walked through the art galleries, enjoying the art as well as the free wine and crackers that were available along with the tunes of live music.  Despite there being nearly a generation in age between us, her childlike excitement for life eliminated the gap and we had a fun evening!  She even gave me a ride back to my boat on her moped :)

Saturday started with a cab ride to the local Habitat site.  Now is when I wish I hadn’t got rid of my bike.  I thought I had worked on most aspects of home building by now, but it was time to do something new.  Today was sod laying day.  Working along side 10 others, we really cranked through a lot of pallets of sod at a couple of different homes.

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laying down the sod

We had fun while we worked and I got a chance to talk with Mike and Sharlyne Biggs.  They were from Cincinnati and OSU fans as indicated by Sharlyne’s shirt.   Mike gave me a ride back to my boat after all the work was done, and he said they would pick me up and take me to church that night too.  I wanted to go Sat night becuase I was hoping the weather would be good to row Sun morning.  We went to church at the Basilica and then walked the streets a little.  They were both shocked as a greeted a couple of the artists I had met the night before -  how is it that I’ve been here a day and know more people on the streets then them :)  Well when we went out to eat pizza they showed they were locals when they ran into their neighbors who sat down and ate with us.  It was another enjoyable evening of laughter and good company!

The weather was supposed to be rough for sunday, 15-20+ mph E. winds with gusts even higher! With more East winds and rain coming the next couple days.  Also weighing in on my decision was the offer from the Biggs who said that if I stay I could come to their house for a cookout and celebration of their daughter’s 20th B-day that night.  I spent the day doing laundry, journaling , emailing, writing cards, making some phone calls and finally dusting off my guitar and plucking a few cords.  The Biggs’s son Shawn came to pick me up at 6 in his raised, black, topless, 5spd wrangler – one of my dream cars!  At the house I met the B-day girl Angela and her bf Chad and we all enjoyed the salmon that Mike grilled as well as the delicious cake that he baked!  Thanks guys for all of your hospitality over the weekend!

By Sun night the tropical storm in the gulf had turned into Hurricane status and was predicting to send more rain and wind.  Guess its time to hunker down for a few days.  Monday I thought I’d stay in shape by walking into town and all around.  First stop of the day was at the Fountain of Youth.  Now I have a good explanation for why I look so young the next time someone asks my age.  The bouncers at bars should appreciate that excuse when they’re questioning the validity of my ID.  For lunch I got a burrito from the taco shop and talked with the same guys I met there on sat.  They were motivated by my trip and want to do one of their own – which they will as they soon head off to India for a few months.  Its interesting to cross paths with so many people going in so many directions!  Speaking of crossing paths, as I walked to a barber shop to get my hair cut I randomly spotted Shawn driving in his hard to miss Jeep.  He didn’t see me but he’ll probably find it amusing if he reads this blog.  Hi Shawn.  The sky started looking dark so i thought it would be wise to start hoofing it back the two miles to the boat before I got wet.

Tuesday was pretty uneventful.  I borrowed the “curtesy car” from the marina and drove to breakfast and the grocery store for some supplies.  Back at the marina I hung out in the boaters lounge doing another load of laundry, blogging, and playing guitar.  Just hung out and relaxed the rest of the day as the nasty weather blew over.

Weds morning there were 15-20mph south winds, but they were calling for it to switch to the NW by around 3pm.  I decided to get everything ready to go, and around 1:30 I couldn’t wait anymore and headed out into the wind.  I had to fight the current and wind for the first 30min until I finally pushed passed the St. Aug inlet and then the currents helped carry me in.  After 10.5 mi I called it a night and set anchor with the winds blowing 15-20mph.

As I’m sure this Blog is dragging on, I will finish the last few days in abbreviated fashion:

Thurs: Rowed 23mi getting me to Flageler Beach wear there was a marina on the map. The marina was closed and roped off but as it was dark and nowhere else good to go I tied up.  Gary came over and said I wasn’t allowed to stay, but after calling the owner I was allowed to stay for the night. Gary drove me into town so I could buy some pizza.  Thanks for everything Gary.

Fri: Planned on rowing 20mi to Daytona Beach, but since the wind and currents were with me I decided to keep going and set anchor after a 32 mi day!

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Anchored out for the night

Sat: Only had 4mi to go until New Smyrna Beach, the last town with a church for awhile.  Wanting to get to mass for the weekend I stopped at the City Marina.  Grabbed an overdue shower and am now finishing typing while I’m waiting for my GPS maps to download.

Wow, ok thats it for now.  Gonna get some more good miles in myself this week before my cousins cousin, Nate, joins up with me for his Thanksgiving break.

-Tom

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