The two day journey from Marathon to Key Largo was beautiful. We started out with a send-off visit by our neighbor and new friend, Buddy the cat. He actually boarded our boat in the morning and was scratching on our companionway doors to get in. (We let him in, gladly.)
We could have sailed straight to Key Largo in one long day, but we chose to take our time and stop at a reef to snorkel on the way. The sea conditions were so calm, we decided to spend the night at Alligator Reef to break up the sail. On day two we made it to Key Largo and anchored in a quiet bay, outside of Rodriguez Key, with easy access by dinghy to the main land.
We were on a schedule because we were linking up with family, Burt and Debbie (Kimberly’s godmother) who traveled to the Keys to meet us. We spent the next few days doing fun touristy things: hand-feeding tarpon, visiting the African Queen, checking out the site where the movie Key Largo was filmed, and snorkeling. The jellyfish were plentiful and left striking marks on us…ouch! During this time, we celebrated our first month living on the water.
The Island Grill at Mandalay was very accommodating to let us use their docks for our dinghy every day. Our price was a couple of drinks each evening before returning to the boat. The staff was very welcoming and made us feel right at home.
After a few days of playing tourist, it was time to say goodbye to family and get to our scheduled business – getting our PADI Divemaster certifications. We moved our boat to Lowe’s Bay in Tavernier (just south of Key Largo, and our previous anchorage) to anchor closer to the dive shop. We chose the Florida Keys Dive Center, locally referred to as “FlaKeys” for our training. We chose well. The owners and staff were excellent and treated us like family. They allowed us to use their dock to park our dinghy every day, receive mail at the dive shop, leave our bikes at the shop, and they drove us to all dive training sites. It felt like a home away from home. We even had friendly puppies to cuddle.
The classes were tough and rewarding. We learned so much every single day we were in the water: how to lead dives, search and recovery using lift bags, teaching new classes to certified divers, techniques for problem solving underwater, and much more. We even learned how to catch lobster, though that’s not part of the curriculum. As part of the training we got to accompany instructors leading brand new divers-in-training. We even got to assist with a ten-year-old girl and her grandfather who were doing a Discover SCUBA class. It was marvelous to see the underwater world through the eyes of a child.
We also learned quite a bit about topside activities: filling tanks from a large air station, setting up a dive boat for over thirty divers, and giving boat and dive briefings. After eight long days, we each earned the title of PADI Divemaster.
Two days after finishing the class, we discovered a painful added cost of all that hard work…I woke up with extreme pain in my right heel, which was diagnosed as a partially ruptured Achilles tendon. Not a major injury, but very painful, and it can take up to three months to heal completely.
Warmest Welcome in Lowe’s Bay
After a couple of days anchored in Lowe’s Bay, we received a comment on our blog from a couple that lives on shore. They saw our boat anchored a few hundred yards from their house and looked us up online. They graciously invited us over for drinks. We became fast friends, and over the next few days enjoyed their wonderful hospitality, gorgeous house (with private pier!), and playing with their sweet dogs. We socialized with Catherine and Charlie every day before departing and they made us feel like family. We know we will be lifelong friends. We will make a point to visit every time we’re in the area. This is part of the fun of living on a boat, you never know when you will meet great people that you would not meet otherwise.
It was time to move on, we were ready to leave the U.S., cross the Gulfstream and head to our first foreign destination, The Bahamas. Before we could leave, we had to do some shedding of more clothes we were not using to make more room aboard, do some provisioning and get some last-minute medical check-ups. We also had to pick up our replacement credit cards since our number was stolen and account cancelled. Fortunately, this happened while still in the U.S., where we could easily have mail forwarded.
The weather is cooperating…time to go! Next stop – West End, Grand Bahama!