Gypsies Palace Cruising Waters – Heading to the Florida Keys

Gypsies Palace In Florida Keys
Gypsies Palace in the background

The further south that we go the more catamarans we are seeing as we enter what I would call Catamaran Cruising Waters. There are lots of sailing catamarans along with a few power catamarans. Our next stop was Marco Island, which is past Naples. We noticed a definite uptick in the number of boats that we are seeing especially fishing boats.  This is our route to the Florida Keys.

One thing that we enjoyed during our stay at Marco Island is that we took the dinghy to the grocery store and farmer’s market.   They have a Winn Dixie with a very long dinghy dock so they do cater to boaters. There is just something about grocery shopping by dinghy that makes it fun!  We stayed 3 days and the weather was nice.

Everglades City Rod & Gun Club
Rod & Gun Club

A special stop that we made was a little bit out of our way and that was Everglades City. This is well worth it the 7 mile trip up the river to get there.  I have known about this place for years. This is part of “Old Florida” where a living was made by hunting and fishing.   The marina there is called the Rod and Gun Club. It was built in the late 1800’s and is definitely a step back in time.   It is perfectly restored and maintained.   There are lots of mounted fish and game on the walls, a pool table room, an intimate bar and white cloth dining room.  Rod & Gun Club

Stone CrabA major purpose for going there was to buy stone crab, our favorite food. This area is known for bringing in some nice stone crab. We learned that due to Hurricane Irma a lot of the crab pots got moved and that has affected their haul. However, we definitely did eat and buy some stone crab, but they were mediums. Another reason that people come to this area is to take an airboat ride and we definitely heard them! We never saw the town, but walked along the water where they have many local fish restaurants.  In there morning we were ready to go early, but the tide wasn’t ready for us.  It was too low to leave for several hours so we just kicked back and relaxed.

We really wanted to get to the Keys even though we knew the lower Keys experienced heavy damage due to Hurricane Irma. We also know that the resort at Faro Blanco in Marathon was up and running so we set our sights on their marina for New Years. That was actually a great decision. They had a New Year’s Eve celebration with an “anchor” drop from their lighthouse.  Faro Blanco Florida Keys

Faro Blanco was fun as there were at least 5 other Loopers there so that meant Docktails. That was short lived because for 7 days the winds picked up to over 20 mph. We were on a dock that directly got both the north and the east winds.   We also experienced all the waves in the bay. There were 2 days that I actually took Bonine because we were really rocking and rolling!   Getting off the boat for dog walks and making that long walk down the dock was no fun at all. When we get bad weather we tend to do nothing!   We hole up in the boat and watch movies.  A must stop for us in Marathon is Keys Fisheries which is another great seafood market. They also are a large supplier of stone crab so once again we had to get it!

Irish Kevin's
Irish Kevin’s Fun

Keys FunWe found that the we could take a local bus to Key West for $1 each way. We talked another Looper couple into going with us.   Our intent was to return on the 7:30 pm bus, but you know how that goes in Key West!! We took our Loopers to some of our favorites bars and met up with other Loopers, too. Needless to say, we missed the 7:30 bus while I was searching for Key Lime Pie on a Stick. The last bus was 9:30 and that happened to be late so we needed to go to one more bar, of course.  Looper midnight was truly midnight that night when we returned to Faro Blanco!

Keys sunset
Gypsies Palace at sunset in the Florida Keys
Jewfish Creek Bridge
Key Largo Jewfish Creek Bridge

Since we had made our Key West trip by bus we decided that we would go back north to Key Largo. We have a favorite restaurant that makes a Key Largo Fish Sandwich.   We anchored off of Sundowner’s and enjoyed a great memory with a beautiful setting. It was a perfect day and perfect ride to our next anchorage past the beautiful skyline of downtown Miami.

Gypsies Palace is getting so close to Crossing her Wake and closing our Loop. We started in Boca Raton last April, but we planned on starting the Loop with a trip to the Bahamas in March.  That did not happen due to high winds for weeks. So, even though we will be in Boca with Gypsies Palace we are taking a Looper Side Trip to the Bahamas and will cross our wake when we return.

“How ’bout lunch in Key Largo?   There’s a fish sandwich place down the road.  They goin conky tonkin’.   Cruisin down U.S. 1.   They’ll be conky tonkin’.   Trying to catch up with the sun.”

Jimmy Buffett

Jewfish Creek
Leaving the Florida Keys

Gypsies Palace is in Home Waters!

West Coast tripHome?   Are we home? No, but Gypsies Palace is.   We bought her in Tarpon Springs and thought it would be fun to get in touch with her original owners.   We have loved how she has performed and wanted to share our Loop experience.   Gypsies Palace was used to traveling the West Coast of Florida so these are her home waters.   She was commissioned in South Africa and the new owners took possession of her in 2010.   They now have a brand new 51 ft. Leopard Power Cat which we got to see while we were in the area. In fact, the original owners were so gracious. They took us all around the area and had us relate our Loop adventure with their friends. We also felt that we were in Home waters!

Harbor Host at Home
Herb Seaton greets us!

We had not really explored the West Coast of Florida by water so this was going to be a fun adventure as the warmer weather welcomed us. Tarpon Springs is a Greek community that was founded with the sponge industry so there are numerous Greek restaurants and shops that sell sponges. Sponge DiverUpon arriving we were greeted by the AGCLA Harbor Host of the Year, Herb Seaton. He makes sure that all Loopers that arrive in his town are welcomed personally.   A Harbor Host is someone in the Loopers Association that volunteers to assist Loopers in their home port. It can be providing transportation to stores or by offering restaurant recommendations.   As we traveled the Loop we met several Harbor Hosts that made our stay memorable. While we were in Tarpon Springs we reconnected with other catamaran friends on Colorado Cat who invited us over for dinner at their wonderfully decorated holiday home. This trip down the West Coast was really feeling like home! Read more

Salt Air, Oysters and Life in the Boatyard

Gypsies Palace
Crossing Mobile Bay

Inhale, we are done with the rivers.   Inhale, salt air fills our lungs.   Inhale, Floridians can breathe.   Inhale, Gypsies Palace is nearing her cruising waters where catamarans belong. Two things we love:  Salt Air and Oysters.   We were in the Panhandle where we can get our fill of both.   Many years ago Steve and I were bringing a boat to Texas and we stopped in the Panhandle to get oysters and there were none due to the beds being stripped out from the Gulf Oil spill.   Lucky us – oysters are in season and big and juicy!  Panhandle Oysters

Lulu's
Docking at Lulu’s for lunch

After crossing Mobile Bay the first town heading east is Gulf Shores, Alabama and that only means one thing – Lulu’s!   Lulu’s is owned and run by Jimmy Buffett’s sister and is home to a great waterfront restaurant, music and marina. We were Buddy Boating with Firestorm and we decided we needed to grab some gulf fish and fun. During our stay we actually went back another time during a song writer’s weekend. We were treated by a slide guitar player that had been inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame.  That was Jim Vest and he was part of the Nashville Cats back with Dylan and Cash. You just never know what treats are going to be found along the way. Read more

1st Year on Gypsies Palace – Reflections Of Gypsies in the Palace

Gypsies Palace ReflectonsWell, we did it!   We have officially lived aboard Gypsies Palace one year! So, how do we feel about it? Any regrets?   Do we want to go back on land? Time for reflections on our 1st year cruising on our catamaran.

A year ago October we had so much going on in our lives in order to make the transition to full time cruising. We were truly in a frenzy. Our house closed at the first of the month and at that time we did not have a boat.   We were certain that we were buying a catamaran, but that was about it because our first deal fell through. We had been purging, selling stuff on Craigslist and trying to decide what items that we would need on a boat. Our storage unit was packed to the gills and we were homeless at our friend’s house.  My dad’s health was failing and he required more of my time. It was a crazy month to say the least. By the end of the month we had closed on Gypsies Palace.

We were fortunate to find this catamaran. It is a Leopard 47 Owner’s Version, which means that it has an owner’s stateroom. It was never in charter and a one owner boat. The former owner liked it so much he bought a newer version that is now a 51 ft Leopard. After we purchased it we spent 4 months adding things to make it a liveaboard that would work for us. Things like improving the refrigeration, adding an ice maker, increasing the holding tanks, increasing the water heater on the master side, adding solar panels, adding a watermaker, adding SAT TV, adding more exterior canvas, changing the anchor, fixing a fuel leak and the best gadget – the Docking Master, remote docking. If I could pick just one thing that I love best that we have done is to install the remote docking device.

During this time it really was hard to “love” living on the boat. Things were a mess because the boat was always being worked on. That limited the feeling of space. I won’t lie. The first few months it was hard to love the boating life because we never left the dock except to pump out.   I didn’t want to go back to a house, but I was ready to get rid of the chaos and get moving. These feelings are not unlike having your kitchen remodeled – there is nothing fun about that process.

Leaving on the LoopLeaving the dock on April 1st to begin the Great Loop was such a liberating feeling. I remember the day clearly and how beautiful it was. It was an omen that this would be a good life and we were doing the Great Loop!

Looking back the first part of the trip was such a blur as I am sure other Loopers would testify. We definitely planned more at the start. Now we are coming into Florida and we haven’t made any plans!   Our answer is that we will figure it out and we can always anchor. By plans I mean where are we going to be? Do we have a reservation? When we will arrive and how long will we stay? We are still Looping and in a transient state, meaning we do not spend much time in any one place. That will change once we complete the Loop.

We have adjusted to everyday life.   Laundry is sometimes done on board or sometimes done at the marina. Most marinas have had decent WiFi. We record TV shows just like at home. Jazzy has adjusted to life on board, including sometimes using the pee pad on the bow.  Gypsies Palace CockpitWe love our cockpit and outdoor living area.  It is so comfortable to enjoy a nice day or evening.

Maximizing the storage space is every boater’s challenge.   Because we have a catamaran we have more space than the mono hull boats. We are like a sailboat where we also have floor storage. The front of our boat has a tremendous amount of room that is why we call one hatch the “Man Cave”.   I have gotten good at buying the right amount of food and using it. In my house I was always throwing food away, but on the boat I find that I let fewer things spoil. We actually have things on the boat that we put on that we have not used. When we get back to our storage unit those will come off. Mine consist of clothes and shoes that I have never worn. Steve has some tools and misc. things as well.

I thought I would exercise more since I was committed to my Jazzercise workout for years. On the Loop this has been difficult because we are always moving to another port. We have used the kayaks and bikes, but not regularly. Some stops we do a lot of walking, others we don’t.   I confess to not always taking advantage on an exercise room at the marinas. This will be something that I change going forward after completing the Loop and settling into a cruising mode where we stay in places longer.

Stress – there is none! We could stress about the weather, but really what is the point?   The times when we are stressed is when we have to be somewhere on a specific date.   That is the hardest for all of us boaters.   It is usually weather or mechanical issues that doom the plan.

Speaking of mechanical issues, we have not had any except for the time when we caught the line around our props in Canada. Everything else on the boat has worked fine thanks to Captain Steve. We have come across many other boats where they hit their props or had a major engine problem. This boat has treated us well.

Most of the trip the temperatures have been cool.   Daytimes in the 70’s, but 40’s and 50’s at night. That was a surprise to us. Luckily, we had put warm clothes on board and bought some along the way. Coming back into Florida will be a shock.   We have run our heater and rarely the air conditioner. This week we actually bought a space heater!   We have even had nights in the 30’s which I would not have expected.

Before we started the Loop we did sit down to create a budget of expenses and to manage our money. I would say that we are right on target, if not under our projections. Where I fell off was that we eat and drink more than being home!   It is fun to shop at the various farmers markets and local grocery stores. It is also true that we eat out more than being home. Our fuel and marina expenses are under budget now, but we will be seeing increasing dockage charges as we enter Florida.

Looper Gold
April & Larry with Abby and Looper Gold

We haven’t ended the Loop yet, but we have made so many new friends that we will continue to see as we continue cruising. Meeting other boaters / Loopers make this lifestyle so special.   We have more friends than we would have ever had if we had stayed in the house. We have really appreciated the comradery.  Our buddy boat friends on One Eye Dog just crossed their wake in Fairhope, AL and we were there for their celebration.  They now flag the Looper Gold Flag for completing the Loop.

Early next year we will complete our Loop when we enter the Boca Inlet. We will end our “adventure”, but move to the “lifestyle” phase of cruising.   We are excited about this new chapter, too. So, after a year, I would say that this is just the beginning! And, no, we do not miss having a land based home!

“We’re gypsies in the palace, there ain’t no wrong or right
We’re gypsies in the palace, and we’re going wild tonight.” ……Jimmy Buffett

 

 

 

Honky Tonks, Turtles and BBQ

Nashville TootiesTime to play and enjoy some Honky Tonks in Nashville and BBQ in Kentucky!  We are half way down to the Gulf and these two states have a lot to offer for boaters. Their inland lakes and rivers make for pleasant cruising, such a nice surprise. Gypsies Palace on the Tenn Tom

When we arrived in Paducah, KY it was during their annual BBQ on the River festival.   This is a large BBQ competition with vendors from all over. We really got some great BBQ.   The hardest part was deciding on which one to pick. During the event there were good southern rock bands which made this stop very special. I was also surprised at the docks by a friend of mine who has been following on Facebook. He and I used to work together and came by the boat to say hello with his wife and friends, Of course, they came on board to enjoy some Gypsies Palace vibe.

Then, one of my best friends decided to join us on this part of the trip and travel with us to Nashville. JoAnn and DebWe have found out how difficult it is to have guests on board with a trip that is always moving. On this part of the trip we had the added burden of closed locks that were backed up with commercial traffic. All Loopers have been warned never set a date AND place because we won’t make it.   We can make a date or place, but meeting both is tough. She arrived early and had to spend a night in a hotel waiting for us. That being said, she and I had a great time catching up and just enjoying the river cruise.

Nashville is considered a “side trip” on the Loop. It is not part of the Loop itself, but Loopers take advantage of the proximity of different towns and venture off the path on a “side trip”. We realized that Tennessee and Kentucky offer many “side trips” in addition to Nashville one can travel to Knoxville, Chattanooga and Louisville by boat. Neither of us had been to Nashville and we both love country music so it was a given we were going to Nashville! It was a two day boat trip from our starting point at Green Turtle Bay to get there. Read more

Gypsies Slow Jam on the Rivers

Gypsies Palace on the RiversAfter leaving Chicago and Lake Michigan the next sequence for the Great Loop is the inland rivers. We were not necessarily looking forward to this section of the Loop because we have been receiving many notices of lock delays and closures on the route. We had been hearing reports of Loopers having to wait a day or more to lock through due to repairs, dredging or the backlog of commercial traffic. It is necessary to traverse more locks on all of the inland rivers on the way to the Gulf of Mexico. Locking by itself is not an issue, but due to the amount of commercial traffic i.e. tugs with barges it makes for a slow pace.   Commercial vessels have priority in all of the locks on the rivers.   Their barges are mostly filled with large bulk items such as coal or rock.   River traffic sometimes reminds me of driving through traffic jams on I-95!

The route of the various rivers starts with the Illinois River, Mississippi, Ohio, Cumberland, Tennessee and the Tenn-Tom Waterway.   All of that finishes in Mobile, Al. Steve and I have done the Tenn-Tom to Chattanooga route, but had no idea what to expect with the upper rivers. We were not sure that we were going to enjoy this part of the journey. Read more

A Defining Moment – Reaching Chicago!

Gypsies Palace entering Chicago
Gypsies Palace Entering Chicago

As we have gone along on our Great Loop journey a defining moment seemed to be reaching Chicago. We would have completed the Lake Michigan phase our trip and Chicago was the gateway to the inland rivers. Chicago was beckoning us to explore and stay before we would begin the inland river route which we had really not even figured out. We had a long list of things that we wanted to do in Chicago. We docked right by Navy Pier at DuSable Marina. We were close to everything and decided that we needed to stay 6 days especially since the weather was going to be perfect – sunny and in the 70’s. Chicago Navy Pier

Naturally, lots of Looper boats were also there, but everyone was so busy sight seeing that we rarely saw anyone until the end of our stay. What we loved about the city is that people were out jogging, biking and walking – a positive energy. The dogs were fascinated by all the dogs and people. But, it was not a feeling of frenzy like New York City. Chicago just envelopes you in friendliness and a welcoming atmosphere.

We had food at the top of our list – Portillo’s Hot Dogs and Gino’s Pizza. Chicago PizzaWe also had to get to Al’s Italian Beef before we left! I had been yearning for Gino’s Pizza, but we actually found another that we liked even better at Labriola the night we went to a Blues Club.   We just stumbled on the place as we were walking.   We wanted to experience the blues in Chicago and found a club called Blue Chicago. It was just what I pictured in my mind – small, intimate, no food, great band and everyone enjoying the vibe. My only disappointment is that we were pretty pooped from the day and couldn’t stay for a 2nd set.Blue Chicago

Those of you that know me that I tend to cram as much into a day as possible and in Chicago I got my wish. Steve even kept up as he didn’t want to miss out on a thing.   As we pulled into the marina another Looper gave us a good piece of advice to check out Groupon for tourist deals.   They had also taken a Segway Tour with their Groupon and highly recommended it.   They had never done it before and neither had we or One Eye Dog. So, the four of us were in for the adventure. It was the best experience!!   Steve took his Go Pro and put together a cute video of us. We then “paid it forward” by suggesting this to other Loopers as they came in. They also loved it!!Chicago Segway  Read more