The Marathon Vortex

One of two dinghy docks at the City MarinaThe Sauce BossAmy and the BossKen and CornTita, Demi, and AmyNearby Sombrero BeachOne of the few creatures eager to leave MarathonDemi loves riding in the canoeOur Pennsylvania buddiesView from Corning and Tita's porchNew plumbing on the old PerkinsMary T on her mooring in Marathon

February, 2015, Marathon Key; Amy

Bottom growth's gettin' thick

Bottom growth’s gettin’ thick

It is nearly impossible to leave this place. Many plan to leave but never do. We’ve seen some sailors venture out only to come limping back in the same day due to a sudden change in weather or boat problems. The longer we’re entrenched here the faster the days and weeks fly by and the less likely it seems we’ll ever leave. I seem to accomplish less each day as I lose track of my purpose. Are we going somewhere? Should I be accomplishing something here? Should I be volunteering like some of the other cruisers? I seem to be able to fill up a day with a trip to the grocery store or doing a load of laundry.

Don, the mechanic

Don, the mechanic

Spending this much time in Marathon has not been a loss. We got to meet Don, the diesel mechanic nonpareil, who’s not only good, but his fee is more than fair and nice and a fine raconteur.

Recently, Don was waxing about the composting toilet on his boat, unlike most boat heads with holding tanks. He told us, “You can be taking the most enormous dump with all kinds of giant farts and your dinner guests right on the other side of the bulkhead won’t smell a thing. There’s a fan in there that literally sucks the smell right out of your bottom. You don’t even smell it yourself!”

And, I’ve played more tennis in the past month than I have in the past 15 years. A second group has me on their roster as a substitute, so in theory I could play just about every day, but the weather and my aching left buttock have prevented me from going full out. In fact I took off the whole past week, to see if my left backside would feel better and it does seem to have improved.

Manatees enjoying the dinghy harbor

Manatees enjoying the dinghy harbor

Unfortunately I’ve been without my primary video camera for the past one months. Every few days I spend at least one hour on the phone trying to get my video camera back. I sent it in for repair the first time October 1, 2014 and it came back unfixed. I sent it back to the manufacturer for the third time in December at which point it seemed to disappear into a black hole. Yesterday I refused to get off the phone without some sort of resolution. An employee at the warranty company finally came to my aid and told me I’d be receiving a check for the full value of the camera. They actually threw in a little extra on account of my distress, which covered the cost of the insurance I’d purchased. I probably won’t buy a new camera until we come back to Maryland this summer, so I’ll make do with my iPhone and GoPro until then. At least I have peace of mind now if not a proper camera.

Amy with reconditioned prop

Amy with reconditioned prop

Our boat repairs have progressed. Our propeller was reconditioned by Grant at the Prop Tec and Barnacle Bill showed up at a moment’s notice to put it back on. He arrived covered in what looked like sawdust but upon closer examination I noticed that the beige mass covering his wet suit was moving. Millions of baby shrimp crawling all over him! They came from the bottom of the boat he’d just cleaned. Too add to my horror, he popped a few in his mouth and said “great protein.” What a dude! In half an hour he had our propeller re-installed and was on his way to acquire more shrimp.

As the boat repairs progress, the tennis goes on. I’ve become accustomed to getting up at 6 a.m. Three days a week. My game is slowly improving. Interestingly one of the tennis players happens to come from my home town of Libertyville, IL. She was three years ahead of me in high school, but we know some people in common. We find ourselves chit-chatting and giggling in the middle of points, much to the dismay of our fellow players. Actually it’s all very casual and nobody cares and the way we rotate partners constantly, there’s no real score keeping.

Our favorite tour guide, Bill

Bill, our favorite tour guide

One of the tennis players named Bill, who is super sweet and spends every winter here on his boat, volunteers at a sort of historical nature reserve called Crane Point. He gives trolley tours there every Sunday and points out various flora and historical tidbits. He invited us to be his guests and we took him up on it. It’s really a little treasure of a spot and we learned a lot about the ecosystem and some of the first inhabitants who were Bahamian.

One Sunday morning I was kayaking up and down the canals that surround Boot Key Harbor when I came upon a festive looking group enjoying beverages at their outdoor mini bar. “Is it someone’s birthday?” I inquired. “No, just Sunday. Would you like to join us?” I could hardly refuse.

Patty, Gerrit, Kenny, Lenny, Jim and Kathy

Patty, Gerrit, Kenny, Lenny, Tim and Kathy

I tied my kayak to a piling and climbed onto their porch and met four of the nicest people to ever come out of the state of Pennsylvania. Gerrit, Kathy, Patty and Lenny became fast friends. During the month they stayed in Marathon we shared many beverages and they even loaned us bikes. Kenny bought one from Lenny before they departed for Key Largo. I actually got hit and knocked over on my bike by a truck pulling out of a gas station. I braked and turned just in time, so I was not injured. Lenny’s bike was slightly worse for wear, but he didn’t mind a bit and fixed it in no time.

I bought a bike of my own which is not very comfortable but good enough for trips to the grocery store. Needless to say I’m very prudent coming and going. We invited the Pennsylvania gang out to our boat before they departed so they could see how the floating half lives. We just managed to squeeze everyone in the cockpit.

The crew of the good ship, Selkie

The crew of the good ship, Selkie

Another high point of our stay here has been getting to know the McDonaghs, an Irish family we first encountered anchored off of St. Augustine. We admired their tough aluminum boat and two adorable, red-headed children, but we didn’t really get to know them until they showed up in the Marathon vortex about three weeks after us. They had planned to leave for Havana a couple of days ago, but the weather took a turn for worse so they’re still here. Justin McDonagh says that as far as he can tell, the only ones to have made it out of Marathon since they arrived is their friend, Eddie, who flew back to Ireland and Dorothea, the rehabilitated sea, turtle released at Sombrero Beach with great fanfare by the “Turtle Hospital.”

Having built their own boat over a period of nine years and sailed across the Atlantic en famille while home-schooling their kids, Justin and Trish McDonagh are part of a rare breed of sailors. By the time they return to Ireland in August, they will have been at sea for three years and have seen the Canary Islands, much of the Eastern Caribbean, the Eastern seaboard of the USA, Cuba, the Bahamas, Bermuda, the Azores…and they don’t act like it’s a big deal at all. (

On top of their amazing seamanship, the McDonaghs are incredibly generous and hospitable. They’ve hosted several gatherings on their boat, Selkie. Every time we visit, ten-year-old Cian and six-year-old Ellen perform a song or poem before hitting the rack and they’re highly entertaining. What really tickles me is that the McDonaghs seem to enjoy my ukulele performances. I’ve been told that Cian has taken to singing my small repertoire of original tunes. He begs me to play when we come over, so he can commit my tunes to memory. This makes him my first official fan outside of Kenny.

Click on the image above to go to the YouTube video

Click (or touch) the image above to go to the YouTube video

Cian is an aspiring actor and if I’d had my big camera, I would’ve made a short movie with him. Lacking a camera I used some great stock penguin footage, with the permission of cameraman David Thoreson, and created a short for YouTube called Penguin Golf using the voices of Cian and Ellen and their mom. They were perfect. I’m selfishly delighted that Selkie didn’t make it out of the harbor. It means we’ll get to see more of them.

There's electricity in the air as the crowd awaits the first outdoor screening of Red Dot on the Ocean

There’s electricity in the air as the crowd awaits the first outdoor screening of Red Dot on the Ocean

One night up at the tiki hut at the Marathon City Marina, we screened Red Dot on the Ocean, my documentary about Matt Rutherford’s journey from troubled kid to sailing legend. Hillary and Charles on the sailing vessel Ship of Fools pulled out their projector and screen for the occasion. They are very outgoing, uber helpful and generous. The event was well attended and despite the less than ideal venue (wind noise and palms trees in the way) the audience held onto every word. When Matt stepped on land after his 309-day trip around the Americas, the spectators burst into applause. That’s something when people clap at a movie. I was really moved.

Dorothea swims away (photo by Corning)

Dorothea swims away (photo by Corning)

Our sailing friends Colleen and Paul (of butt darts fame) from Atlantic city happened to be in Key Largo at the time, so they made the trek down for the movie. It was great to see them as always, but too brief. We tried to get together again before they flew back north, but I was under the weather so it didn’t happen. Some day maybe we’ll get to do a little cruising together if our fates align.

Our old cruising friends Corning and Tita from Maine also arrived in the Keys by car a couple of weeks ago. We first met up with them on Sombrero Beach at Dorothea the turtle’s coming out party. Corning took an excellent photo of Dorothea’s exit. It wasn’t easy to get it as the crowd was rather dense.

Amy stirs the gumbo as the Sauce Boss stirs up the audience.

Amy stirs the gumbo as the Sauce Boss stirs up the audience.

C and T joined us a few nights ago to see the “Sauce Boss” at Dockside Restaurant. The Sauce Boss ( serves up some saucy blues and gumbo at the same time. A huge pot graces the stage next to the musician and audience members are invited up to stir the simmering stew while the Boss plays. I was dancing up a storm in front of the stage, so the boss told me to get on up and do some stirring. Naturally I obliged. The Boss was so taken by my stirring/dancing that he awarded me a free CD for being the top chef of the evening. Unfortunately we did not stay long enough to actually taste the gumbo. It was a rather chilly evening and we had a fairly long dinghy ride ahead of us and Corning and Tita had a long drive, so we bowed out before the finale and the gumbo. I know. We’re getting old.

Amy with prize

Amy with prize

Corning and Tita have invited us to come for a visit in their lovely vacation rental in Summerland Key about midway between Marathon and Key West. We hope to make it there in the next day or two. And if we ever manage to escape Marathon, Corning has offered to sail with us to Isla Mujeres, Mexico, provided he’s available. Tita is going to stay behind and paint. It’s something she does too little of and her work is beautiful.

As of today, our engine work might be done! Diesel Don just left Mary T and Kenny is finishing up. Then it’s just a matter of Kenny’s knee and kidney feeling good and we can take off. Unless the vortex holds us back…Anyway, as much as I love it here, I hope our next blog is from somewhere else.

Update: February 24; Kenny

We spent three wonderful days at Corning and Tita’s vacation rental on Summerland Key. The timing was perfect too, as we had the most wind and lowest temperatures of the season. There was a road trip to Key West, a splendid meal at the “Square Grouper,” a canoeing adventure out towards open water, a visit to the Big Pine Key Flea Market and much merriment in between. Thanks C & T, we had a great time.

Amy took me out to dinner last night for my birthday. What she didn’t say was who else would be joining us. What a terrific surprise to find Diesel Don along with wife Dina, and friend James, joining us at Frank’s Grill. And to top it off, Don picked up the tab! Thanks again, Don

Selkie took off today for points south and I am visiting both my local doctors who, conveniently for me, share the same office building. My knee is still a problem but there’s not much that can be done unless I’m willing to stick around for another month for four to six hyaluronic acid injections which would be the next phase of treatment. My kidney issue is not yet resolved.

3 comments on “The Marathon Vortex
  1. molly flannery says:

    loved the pics and stories and the irish family! you guys know how to have fun.
    Hope kidney issue gets resolved very soon.
    we’re drowning in snow.
    love you loads, molly

  2. mary says:

    I second Molly’s motion.
    Except no snow here.
    Love pix of Corning/Kenny and Amy/Tita. Plus little doggie sailor.
    I don’t think Manatees should be in Marathon.
    If you’re not outta there in 2 weeks…start volunteering!!!

    Love you guys. Over & out…

  3. mary says:

    oops I mean SOME snow here. Just not drowning. Marathon sounds/looks divine. I hope you don’t end up like Calm To…??
    Also love the applause for Red Dot. That’s the part I always burst into tears. Next time I’ll clap.
    Over & out take 2.
    with love.

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