Three Weeks in Marco Island

When we arrived in Marco Island, our two main goals were to fix the leaky deck to haul joint and to do the laundry. Somewhere along the line, those two goals stretched out into another long list of projects. By now, I should expect this. RJ told me the other day that people refer to cruising life as “boat work in tropical places.” Seems true.

Let me back up just for a moment. The last you heard from us, we had just finished our Gulf Crossing from Port Saint Joe to St. Petersburg, Florida. As soon as we dropped the anchor in St. Petersburg, we put out a few damp items to dry, RJ napped and I wrote in my journal on deck. Eventually, I too, napped. Once we woke up, we checked the weather, ate some dinner, watched a movie and went to bed. Not much waking time that day.

The next morning, until noon hit, we weren’t really positive we were going to leave. Yet, something convinced us to do another overnight sail to Marco Island. At 1:45 p.m. on Saturday, December 16th, we pulled up the anchor.

Were we crazy? Maybe. But we felt far more prepared. We had soups cooked in thermos’s, sandwiches pre-made (to avoid another jelly catastrophe). Water was boiled for impending coffee needs. Snacks were in easy to reach places. We also took extra care into securing everything in the cabin, by creating a make-shift lee-cloth out of an old sheet. This would hold some items up in one of the bunks to keep the floor of the cabin clear from debris.

For the most part, the passage was uneventful. That is, if you consider sleeping in a puddle on the floor of the cabin uneventful.

You see, the only place I could make for myself to lay down was by placing a cushion onto the floor. Other than the v-berth (the bed in the front of the boat), it was the least likely place to get thrown around. And well, the v-berth was still wet so that wasn’t really an option, anyways.

After a couple hours of rest, RJ called me outside. I sat up, feeling dampness on my upper back side. Apparently, what water we were taking on, from various places, wasn’t able to reach the bilge pump because of how far the boat was heeling over. So, okay, it wasn’t entirely a puddle, but the cushion I was on was acting as a nice sponge for what water was splashing up from the sides of the floorboards.IMG_0778IMG_0865IMG_0880We sailed 160 miles in 25 hours, spending most of our time scanning the horizon for crab pots. The fields of the obnoxious Styrofoam balls seemed absolutely never ending, though eventually the sun came out and it’s warmth blanketing my body didn’t make it so bad. As each hour passed, I kept shedding clothing. I went from full gear to a bathing suit, sitting on the bow of the boat for the last couple of hours before Marco Island. Scanning the horizon. And scanning. Scanning…

After tossing the anchor down, RJ pumped up the paddleboard. We had been looking forward to seeing the crew on Skinny Dipper again and there they were, docked at Rose Marina, visible from our anchorage. We paddled over, climbed onto their boat, and spent an hour or two catching up. Eventually, I climbed off their boat and headed to use the marina bathroom, feeling for maybe the first time my lack of instant land legs.

Over the course of the next few days, RJ and I paddled back and forth on the paddleboard multiple times a day. We transported groceries, ice, sewing kits, and multiple loads of laundry. We were absolutely convinced we wouldn’t be there for long, so pumping up the dinghy seemed unnecessary.

We had arrived on a Sunday, the 17th of December. On Monday, we relaxed. On Tuesday, we went to the beach with our friends, chasing around their dog, shelling, and swimming. Wednesday was the farmers market, and we indulged in juicy tomatoes, ripe mangoes, and avocados. RJ especially enjoyed the Mediterranean food stand. So much so, that even after returning to the boat, and spilling half the tabbouleh on the floor, he continued to eat it. At noon on Thursday, I joined Kim in going to a yoga class she had been invited to by a woman named Deb, who also had a boat at the marina.
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I think it was Friday when RJ pumped up the dinghy. I guess it was decided, we were staying a bit longer. We hooked up with Deb and her husband, Carl, so RJ could use their sewing machine to make more legitimate lee cloths to replace our make-shift sheet one which had completely torn in half.

Over the course of the following week, not too much happened. We went swimming around our boat whenever we felt like it. Walking to a grocery store happened about daily. Christmas passed almost unnoticed (we’re not used to the season without snow or a windchill). RJ’s parents did gift us personalized hats with “Patches” across the front and even though they do make us feel a bit dorky, we love them.

We made quite a simple Christmas dinner, consisting of potatoes, carrots, and a vegan loaf all made in the pressure cooker, with corn made in a separate pot. It was so satisfying, we’ve talked about it almost every day since.
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And suddenly, something that we weren’t even considering a problem, became one. Our head (or toilet, in land speak), was full. Or, I guess, the holding tank was full. For those who don’t know, when you live on a boat all of your bodily waste gets stored in what is essentially a glorified box until your able to get somewhere to pump it out. Our last pump out had been in Port Saint Joe, where RJ got some nasty spray.

Well, nasty spray was just one thing that convinced us to decide on a big change. To replace our conventional head with a composting one. From what we had heard, and researched, it seemed as though everyone who had made this same switch was incredibly happy with it. On the same day our holding tank became full, RJ discovered through a phone conversation with a friend that there is nowhere to pump out in the Bahamas, anyways, so there’s reason number two to get a composting head. We ordered one that day.

The following morning, the police arrived. Don’t get too worried, we hadn’t done anything wrong, and actually had been expecting a visit. Carl had told us to expect them from the first day we arrived, just for routine safety checks and to make sure we weren’t dumping our waste into the bay.

And really, our waste was the only thing that seemed to be of concern. I’m not sure our boat had ever been more of a mess, than on this particular day. RJ had just finished replacing the stuffing box material in the rudder. To do this while we were in the water, everything that could be was moved towards the front of the boat to lift the stern as high as possible (to prevent water from flowing in too quickly.

After that, in preparation to remove the conventional head and holding tank, we had rearranged the cabin multiple times (aka tossed things wherever they weren’t in the way). At this point, we were having trouble finding anywhere on the island that had a working and available pump out (all the marina’s were either fully booked and too crowded for us to get in or still had broken pump outs from the storm).

But wait, that wasn’t the only project. There was still a mess from fixing the deck to haul joint, I had just cooked an amazing breakfast (and hadn’t yet finished the dishes), and we were in the middle of replacing a couple of our old winches.  Anyways, all this to say that I don’t think the officer knew what to expect when he came onto Patches, but I’m sorry he had to walk into that.

All he wanted was for us to prove that we weren’t dumping waste. We don’t even have the ability to dump out on our boat, anyways, so he said the easiest way would be to pump some water down the toilet. Sorry, officer, our holding tank is already full and the vent clogged. No can do. But maybe you should talk to the marinas here and tell them they need to open up a pump out.

Maybe you know too much about our waste now, but I guess that’s what you get from me, today. We went a week before finally pumping out, patiently waiting for one to be available. Our patience was wasted, when no such luck came to us. Though, because of this, we had a beautiful day sail up to Naples on the 30th of December to take care of business.

New Years Eve was a melody of surrounding bars blasting music, fireworks booming in the sky, and the singing, dancing and yelling of people passing by on boats.

By midday on January 2nd, our composting toilet had been delivered. We put off the removal and replacement project for more than half of the day. Ultimately, it was painless. Everything was removed, plugged, and thrown in the dumpster. We wiped all related compartments with bleach water and after, peppermint water. We even cleaned and vacuumed out the bilge (lots of dirt, dust, and sand), which was something we had in the back of our minds for a few weeks now.

The first four days of the year consisted of wind. And not even just a little. It was enough to make a four minute dinghy ride just to get from the boat to land uncomfortable. We were getting cold, irritated, and beyond ready to leave Marco Island.

One of the first greetings we had received when we arrived was, “Welcome to sunny Marco Island!” We were convinced it was time to leave as soon as that no longer felt true.
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