Category Archives: Photography

Posts that have something to do with our interest in photography, including technology, techniques, locations, and images.

20230311-12 – Miami, FL (USA) and home

SATURDAY 11 March – Arrival in Miami and Disembarkation

This post consists of some narrative and 18 photos with captions.  ]

As our cruise was slowly drawing to a close, it would be an understatement to say that we had a great time.  We were grateful that Nancy and Paul invited us along on this adventure, as it was not even on our event horizon.  Had we decided at some point in the future to do this on our own, it would still have been a great trip, but getting to do it with close friends in one of the two “owner’s suites” of the NCL Joy HAVEN, was a unique (and probably once-in-a lifetime) experience for us.  And it was a very special experience, indeed.  Now where’s that lottery ticket?

We were up early to get ready to disembark and watch the ship come into the Port-of-Miami.  The Haven staff had laid out a breakfast buffet in the Haven’s Horizon Lounge, so we made use of that first.  The Lounge was mostly devoid of guests at this early hour, so following are photos of areas of the HAVEN that I have not previously posted.

 

The sign for the HAVEN Library, in the hall just outside the main entrance doors.  (We actually had a “back way” into the library as the emergency exit opened into the hallway right at the entrance door to our suite.)  The Library is on the middle (18th) of the three HAVEN decks.

A partial view of the HAVEN Library from near the main entrance doors, looking forward to port.  Our suite is just on the other side of the wall/bookcase at the left of the photo.

The hallway leading to the HAVEN Horizon Lounge.  The Lounge is all the way forward on the lower (17th) of the three HAVEN decks.  The center portion of the Lounge, however, has its ceiling at the top of deck 18.  All of the staterooms are on decks 17 and 18.  The Horizon Lounge, concierge desk, pool, and bar are on deck 17.  Deck 18 includes the Library and the Restaurant.  Deck 19 is indoor/outdoor lounging space.

The entire NCL Joy is an attractive and well-maintained ship, but even the signage in the HAVEN had a special, understated elegance.  (This photo also contains a selfie image of the photographer.)

The other members of our little “gang” having a bite of breakfast in the HAVEN Horizon Lounge while I roam around taking photographs.

The buffet area of the HAVEN Horizon Lounge.  We were there quite early (this photo was date/time stamped at 7:03 AM.)

The port side of the HAVEN Horizon Lounge.  The front portion of our suite, including the balcony, is above this ceiling but we never heard any noise from below when we were there.

A wider view of the HAVEN Horizon Lounge from mid-ship front looking to port.  The forward port corner of the library is visible in the upper left.  The front portion of our suite, including the balcony, is behind the upper wall with the slanted lighting.  To the right in the photo are the large forward-facing windows in the center of the Lounge which span both decks (17 and 18).

A view of the HAVEN Horizon Lounge and Library looking aft/starboard from slightly to port.  The forward wall of the Library is also all windows, so from there you can see all the way forward through the large center Lounge windows.  The wall with the lighting running at various angles is the other owner’s suite.

The HAVEN swimming pool and hot tub area.  The area is open all the way to the ceiling of deck 19.  The ceiling is retractable, but we never saw it opened during our cruise.  The opening on deck 19 has lounge chairs all the way around.  There is also access to the outside portion of deck 19 that is part of the HAVEN.

 

We arrived at the Port of Miami around 7 AM.  Our departure from Los Angeles was in late afternoon light under heavy mist and rain, so we didn’t really see any of the California coast.  With our approach to Miami, however, it was still dark and the sky was clear.  From our first sighting of lights along the shore, it took several hours to actually get to the cruise ship terminal.  While we might prefer national parks as places to visit and explore, there was no denying that the Miami skyline, lit up in the dark, is an impressive, urban sight.

 

 

Coming into the Port-of-Miami under the cover of darkness.  The cruise ship terminals are straight ahead.  (Click for a higher resolution image on appropriate devices.)

Heading towards the cruise ship terminals with the Miami skyline in the background; container dockyard on the left, superyachts docked on the right.  (Click for a higher resolution image on appropriate devices.)

The Royal Caribbean Harmony of the Seas at its Miami terminal on the left.  The Harmony of the Seas is even bigger than the NCL Joy.

As we come alongside the RC Harmony of the Seas, the NCL cruise ship terminal comes into view on the left.

The NCL terminal is very modern.  This photo shows one of the two enclosed gang planks.  They are similar to the jetways used at airports.  The whole structure moves parallel to the edge of the dock on rails and the opening for the ship can be adjusted (up and down) to match the boarding deck.

A final selfie of the “fab 4” by the maître de station of the HAVEN Restaurant.

 

As soon as we began disembarkation things got busy and we did not take any more photos until we reached the Orlando area.  The Norwegian Cruise Line terminal is a large, modern facility designed to make embarkation and disembarkation smooth and relatively easy.  We elected to take our own luggage with us and had priority disembarkation as a result.  (We each had an individual carry-on size rolling suitcase and each couple had a larger rolling suitcase that we checked when flying.)  We cleared in through US Customs quickly and found our way to the taxi / ride-share area where we booked a larger Uber to get the four of us and our six suitcases to the car rental area at Miami International Airport where we had reserved a car with Enterprise Car Rental for the next leg of our journey.

The rental car area was a new/large terminal in itself, and picking up our rental car was a relatively smooth, painless process.  We upgraded the size of vehicle at the counter for a small extra charge.  We also verified that we could use the toll roads.  The toll road system uses “toll-by-plate” and the tolls would be billed to Enterprise and passed along to us.  We were on our way by 9 AM and headed north on the Florida’s Turnpike towards Orland.  Our first destination was the boarding facility near Walt Disney World to retrieve Nancy and Paul’s mini-Goldendoodle, Bella, who was boarded there for the duration of the cruise.  (It was an amazingly nice boarding facility with a great staff, so Bella was in good hands while her servants were away on holiday.  She even had her own private “suite” with access to an outside area.  Sometimes “a dog’s life” is a pretty good life.  )

 

 

Nancy and Paul’s lot/pad at Mount Olive Shores North (MOSN) with their American Eagle motorhome.

 

Bella, Paul and Nancy’s mini-Goldendoodle, at the MOSN dog park.

With Bella in hand, we headed southwest on I-4 towards Lakeland, a route with which we were all too familiar.  Traffic on I-4 was as bad as usual, but eventually loosened up.  Soon enough, we were exiting for Polk City.  We arrived at Mount Olive Shores North (MOSN), where Paul and Nancy have a lot with a pad for their Class A American Eagle motorhome, a short time later.

 

 

Even through I wasn’t feeling well, we decided to go to Ford’s Garage in Lakeland for dinner.  Bella was with us, so needed their outside seating as dogs are allowed there.  We abandoned that idea shortly we arrived as the wait was going to be at least an hour.  We considered other dinner options, but ultimately decided to return to MOSN and pickup some pizzas in Polk City on the way.   We had a flight booked for the next morning from Tampa International Airport to Detroit Metropolitan Airport (DTW), and spent the night in Paul and Nancy’s motorhome.

 

SUNDAY 12 March – Closing the Loop

We were up early in order to be ready to go and skipped breakfast.  We said our “farewells until next time,” and “thanks yous,” “and left MOSN around 8 AM for the approximately 1-hour drive to Tampa International Airport.  This early on a Sunday morning the traffic wasn’t too bad, and returning the rental care was quick and easy.  Our flight home on DELTA Airlines was schedule to depart at noon, so we found some seats near our gate, got some coffee and bagels/muffins, and doodled on our iPads will we waited.

Our incoming flight was delayed so we waited a bit longer, but it was no big deal for us.  A couple sitting nearby was a bit anxious, however, and we struck up a conversation.  They were headed to Amsterdam (Netherlands) via a connecting flight out of Detroit Metro Airport.  Their window to get off of our flight onto their next one was already uncomfortably small, but I think we made it out of Tampa International Airport in time for them to make the connection in Detroit.

Our daughter was tracking our flight, and drove to DTW to pick us up and take us back to her house, where we left our F-150 while we were gone.  Back at her house, we transferred all of our luggage into our truck, ready to return to our house.  The truck started just fine, but displayed a warning message about the charging system, and the battery light stayed on.  Linda Googled the message and found that it was likely that our battery was not charging and our range might be limited a 20- to 30-minute drive.  Knowing that, we thought we might make it home, and started on our way.  We didn’t get very far, however, before deciding that this was not a good idea, especially later on a Sunday afternoon, whereupon we turned around and returned to our daughter’s house.  She was happy to let us borrow her car to get home and we promised to return it in a day or so.  It was not the conclusion to our epic adventure that we envisioned, and the problem was resolved over the next few days, but that’s another story for another post.

20230309-12 – Georgetown, Cayman Islands & a sea day

THURSDAY 09 March – Georgetown, Cayman Islands

This post consists of some narrative and 12 photos with captions.  ]

Our approach to Georgetown, Cayman Islands at first light.  (This image is 1920×862 pixels.  Clicking on the image might allow it to be viewed at full resolution on a device with sufficient resolution.)

Center frame; the tender dock and Port of Entry station at the heart of Georgetown, Cayman Islands as sunrise approaches.

 

Our penultimate port of call was Georgetown, Cayman Islands.  The port lacks a deep-water marina, so cruise ships “anchor out” and the guests “tender in.”  There are quite a few things to do on the island, and there were numerous shore excursions from which to choose.  This was not our first visit to Georgetown, however, and we were content to just go ashore and stroll around for a bit.  As port towns go it’s not very interesting.  Most of the things to see and do are elsewhere on the island(s).

 

Cloud figures; a horse plays with a hippopotamus on its back.

One of the tenders (shuttle boats) tied up alongside the NCL Joy.  Cruise ships are BIG; tender boats are small.

The NCL Joy is joined by the Carnival Glory cruise ship in the harbor.

Welcome to the Cayman Islands:  Nancy, Linda, and Paul.

Welcome to the Cayman Islands; Bruce, Nancy, and Paul.

 

The Cayman Islands in general, and Georgetown in particular, is known for its (offshore) banking industry.  We were here as part of our 2nd Holistic Holiday at Sea cruise in 2013, so we knew the town itself is relatively small, without too much high-rise architecture, and is very walkable, but without very much to see and do.  It seemed unchanged to us since our last visit.  The two most novel things about our time here were:  1) an actual police officer directing traffic, and;  2) the number of cruise ships in the harbor; four at one time (as best I recall).  The Joy departed at 5 PM for the final leg of our journey.

 

The Cayman Islands Parliament building and part of the plaza that it faces.  A lot of the buildings in Georgetown are white or light colored, so Paul is wearing his favorite tie-die shirt to add a splash of color.

When in Georgetown there isn’t any doubt as to its history and affiliation with England.  Even they way they post “NO PARKING” signs is very polite.

The Celebrity APEX cruise ship (left) has joined the NCL Joy (right) and Carnival Glory (center) in the Georgetown anchorage.  There’s a 4th cruise ship anchored here as well, but not visible in this photo.

 

In larger ports that can handle multiple cruise ships simultaneously, it’s a bit mind-boggling how many people they can disgorge into a waiting community.  Equally amazing, are the number of businesses (and people) that are in place at each port to service, and indeed depend on, these large number of visitors.  Cruise ships have their purpose, however, and we had thoroughly enjoyed our time on the NCL Joy and the places it stopped.  Perhaps someday we will return to some of these locations on our own, as well as others that our cruise skipped, and stay long enough to get a better sense of what they are really like.  But if not, at least we have experienced them, however briefly, and been keenly aware that we were in places that were very different from where we have spent most of our lives.

 

The NCL Joy puts its port side bow thruster to work to spin the ship 180 degrees around its mid-point.  Not shown (not visible from our port-side suite baloney) is that the starboard side stern thruster is also being used.

The Celebrity APEX has already completed it’s 180 degree turn and is headed out to sea as our ship completes its turn to do the same.

 

FRIDAY 10 March – At Sea

We sailed all evening on the 9th, all day on the 10th, and into the early morning of the 11th.  We had our last dinner meal aboard in the Haven restaurant on the 10th.  After dinner, we gave gratuities to the key crew who had made our trip extra special, namely:  Isidro (our Butler), Harold (our Stateroom Attendant), Patrick (the head Haven concierge), and Melody (the Assistant Concierge in charge of the Haven restaurant).  These gratuities were in addition to the ones that all guests pre-pay and are (presumably) divided up (in some equitable way) between the entire crew (except for the butlers and the Haven concierges, as we understood it).  These four people, however, had made our time onboard memorable in the best possible way.

Over the course of the day, I developed an irritated throat that got worse with time and eventually moved to my sinuses.  Not the way I wanted to end the cruise, but there wasn’t anything I could do about it except for symptomatic treatments, until we got ashore in Miami, Florida and back to Paul and Nancy’s place at MOSN in Polk City, Florida.

20230307-08 – Cartagena, Columbia & a sea day

TUESDAY 07 March – Cartagena, Columbia

This post has some narrative along with 22 photos with captions.  ]

After finishing our daytime transit of the Panama Canal on March 6th, we were at sea for the rest of the evening and overnight into March 7th, arriving at the cruise ship dock in the harbor at Cartagena, Columbia around 10 AM.

Our first full view of the harbor area of Cartagena, Columbia in the early morning haze.  We are already past the entrance in the breakwater into the outer harbor but have some ways to go before enter the inner harbor and get to the port/dock.

Linda takes in the upscale water-front area of Cartagena as the NCL Joy prepares to enter the inner  harbor.

The Holland America Zandam at the cruise ship dock.  We are pulling on the other side of the dock.  The Zandam is a big ship, but is dwarfed by the Joy.

Cartagena is a major shipping port.  This container facility is just one of many that we passed on the way into the dock.

 

The Zandam, a Holland America cruise ship, was already there when we arrived.  Cartagena is Columbia’s main Caribbean port.  It is mostly commercial, but the Columbian Navy has a base here, and there are marinas for pleasure craft and sightseeing boats.  We were amazed, however, at the number of containers stacked up in the shipyard and the number of gantry cranes that were in use moving them around.  Outside of the commercial and cruise ship docks, however, the city around the harbor is very modern and (we were told) has become a safe, inviting place for tourists.

 

This photo provides another view of the container shipyard adjacent to the cruise dock/port area, very close to a lot of commercial and residential buildings.  We counted at least 21 of the blue gantry cranes in this shipyard, and it seemed at times that most of them were busy moving containers around.  There was also a constant flow of tractors coming in to drop off or pick up containers.  (Photo by Linda.)

On our bus ride to the Old City, we saw lots of juxtapositions of old and new.  The old stone work in the foreground is 16th century.  The high-rise buildings in the background are late 20th to earl 21st century.

This photo was typical of the Cartagena streets that our excursion bus took to get to the Old City.  While the look and feel of the place was different from what have experienced for most of our lives, it was also fascinating.

 

Like Antiqua, Guatemala the Spanish presence in Cartagena dates back to the very beginning of the 16th century.  The Walled Old Town by the sea is still intact, and is another UNESCO World Heritage Site.  The four of us booked a shore excursion that involved a bus ride from the dock to the Old City, a walking tour of the Old City, and then a 1-hour boat ride around the harbor.  As part of the harbor cruise, we got a close-up look at the Caribbean fleet of the Columbian Navy base, which includes two small submarines and a 3-masted sailing vessel named Gloria (presumably for training cadets).  While on our cruise, we watched the Holland America Zandam back out from the dock, turn around and head for the ocean.

 

The entrance to the Old (walled) City.  This photo only provides a glimpse into the tourist crowd that awaited us inside the walls.

Many of the streets in the Old City were like the one pictured here, running straight for short distances before turning in a different direction.

Linda and Nancy enjoying a funny moment.  (They do this a lot.)  Paul is focused on something else.

The inside of the Cathedral in the Old City with its massive, carved altar.

A closer view of the altar with someone praying in the foreground.

There was a lot of variety in the architecture of the buildings in the Old City so it’s not really possible to say what was “typical.”  This style, however, was in the mix.

Cartagena was the seat of the Spanish Inquisition in the Americas, and it was administered from this building, now a museum dedicated to this part of Columbia’s history.

The Caribbean fleet of the Columbian Navy is based Cartagena, and moored in plain sight.

The Holland America Zandam backing out of its berth at the cruise terminal.  The NCL Joy is behind it, and difference in size is obvious.

A selfie on the little harbor cruise ship.  It appears that we were satisfied with the experience.  (Photo by Linda.)

It appears that Nancy and Paul also enjoyed the harbor cruise.  (Photo by Linda.)

A pair of Macaws at the zoo/shops that make up the entrance the cruise terminal.

Another pair of Macaws at the zoo/shops terminal entrance area.

The same pair of Macaws as the previous photo.  Such beautiful birds.

 

Following our harbor cruise, we were bused back to the cruise terminal, which we entered by walking through a small outdoor zoo and then past some gift shops.  Although farther north than Panama City, the climate, even at this time of year, was more tropical – warm and humid – and the birds reflected that.  We were always aware that we were getting a superficial “tourist eye’s view” of Cartagena, but nonetheless enjoyed our brief time in Cartagena, Columbia and felt like this was another port-of-call where an overnight stop might have allowed a closer, more relaxed acquaintance with the place and its people and culture.

The Norwegian Joy left Cartagena at 6 PM and headed for our next port, sailing all evening, all the following day, and overnight into March 9th.

 

WEDNESDAY 08 March – At Sea

We spent the entire day sailing NNW in the western Caribbean Sea, out of sight of land.  The weather was pleasant with blue skies and water and white, puffy clouds.  The only photo I’ve included shows the monitor in our suite.  Our present location is approximately half way to our destination of Georgetown, Cayman Islands.  The right end of the upper information banner shows that we have sailed 3,767.1 NM (nautical miles) from our starting point at the Port of Los Angeles.  We sailed overnight before finally sighting land around sunrise.

 

The monitor in our suite showing our current location, heading, and speed, along with other information, including our total distance sailed since departing the dock at the Port of Los Angeles.

 

While we enjoy seeing land from the ship, and getting off the ship at ports to explore, we also enjoyed our days at sea.  Far from being boring, sea days provided a chance to relax and explore/enjoy the many amenities the ship had to offer.  While cruise ships can take you to amazing places there is no doubt that the ships themselves (and especially the staff) are part of the experience.

20230306 PCC 9of12 – Transiting the Panama Canal

MONDAY 06 March – 51 miles between oceans on a ship

[  NOTE:  Most of this post consists of 36 photos with captions.  This is being posted more than 3 months after the fact – some of the details might be inaccurate and some of the photos might be out of sequence.  ]

Going through (transiting) the Panama Canal was the main reason for going on this cruise, and the experience did not disappoint.  The American Society of Civil Engineers considers it one of the seven wonders of the modern world.  (We have no seen all of the wonders of the world, ancient or modern, so we will take their word for it.)

 

The NCL Joy moving into the queue for entrance to the southern end of the Panama Canal.

The ocean in the vicinity of Panama City and the entrance to the Panama Canal was crowded with ships waiting to make the transit.  Ships can book a date/time to start the transit, but it is much more expensive than just waiting in line.  Ships with non-perishable cargo and less critical delivery timelines choose to wait their turn and get the lower price.  The fee for the NCL Joy to transit the Canal was approximately $750,000 USD.  The pricing structure for the Canal is very complicated.  (Photo by Linda)

The NCL Joy left the dock at 5 AM to be in position for the 8 AM scheduled start of our transit.  It was dawn by the time we were moving towards the entrance of the Canal and were opposite our starting point.  Part of the Panama City skyline forms the background of this photo, taken by Linda.

Starting into the marked channel that leads to the Panama Canal.  Our ship was docked in the harbor on the other side of the small hills to starboard (right).

The Norwegian Joy left the dock in Panama City at 5 AM and we were up to see it off.  We spent the entire transit in our front-facing 18th deck stateroom; usually on the balcony.  We even took our meals in our room, one of the few times we took advantage of this perquisite.

The Puente de las Americas (Bridge of the Americas) ahead.  Channel markers to the left and right of the ship are visible.  The hill on the right had the radio towers/antennas used to communicate with the ships using the Panama Canal.

Approaching the Puente de las Americas (Bridge of the Americas).  This bridge is considered the (unofficial?) southern terminus of the Panama Canal.  Note the crowd of guests gathered on the foredeck of our ship.  This area is normally only open to crew, whose quarters are located foreship near this level.

The Bridge of the Americas to port (left) of the ship just after our balcony passed under it.  We are now (officially?) in the Panama Canal, but still some way from the first set of locks.

Large commercial/cargo docks to starboard (right).

More commercial/cargo docks to port (left).

 

Ships transiting the Canal are queued up in the ocean and then proceed along a well-marked channel when cleared in.  The Bridge of the Americas is considered the southern terminus of the Canal and the Puente Atlántico (Atlantic Bridge) at Colon is considered the northern terminus.  Passing under either of these bridges is a cause for celebration on cruise ships.  And so, it was for us too; we finally opened our bottle of “welcome on board” champagne and toasted the moment.

The original 2-flight Miraflores Locks are to starboard (right).  The newer (2016) 3-flight Panamax class Miraflores West (Cocoli) Locks are to port (left).  We used the newer locks as the NCL Joy is too large for the original ones.  Both sets of locks are still referred to as the Miraflores Locks.

The NCL Joy lined up to enter the Miraflores West (Cocoli) Locks.  The tug boat is positioned to block the Joy from going in yet, and to render maneuvering assistance if/when needed.  (Photo by Linda)

The double lock gates are sliding open so our ship can move from the first to the second/middle basin.  The NCL Joy is just over 1,000 feet long; too big for the older/original locks at either end of the Canal, but much smaller than the maximum 1,400-foot length the new locks can accommodate.  A third phase of lock building is in the planning stages with locks that will accommodate even bigger ships.  (Photo by Linda)

As our ship entered the Miraflores West (Cocoli) Locks, we could see other ships to starboard (right) using the original Miraflores Locks.

The structure center-right in the photo is the sliding lock gate that will close behind the ship once it is fully in the lock basin.  The green surface on top is a road that allows Canal staff to get from one side to the other (when the gate is closed, obviously).  All of the new locks use these massive sliding gates.  The original locks using swinging gates.

The “Cocoli control tower” for the Miraflores West Locks.  We had one more basin after the one we are currently in.  Each of the basins is an “elevator) that works like a bathtub.  When filled with water any boat(s) in the basin are raised in elevation.  When the water is drained, they are lowered.  When the water level is the same on both sides of a gate, it can be opened or closed, allowing ships to enter or leave the basin.

Exiting the last basin of the Miraflores West (Cocoli) Locks northbound.  Miraflores Lake can be seen ahead to starboard (right).  Because of the geology of this part of the Canal Zone, the original southern lock system consists of two flights in the Miraflores Locks and then a single flight in the Pedro Miguel Lock.  The body of water in-between is named Lake Miraflores.  The new West (Cocoli) Locks achieve the change in elevation in a 3-flight (staircase) lock system.  The two channels reunite just north of the Pedro Miguel Lock.

 

There is a lot of information available online and in books about the Panama Canal.  It’s a long, complicated story, and not a happy one in most regards.  I was glad I had taken the time to read about this before being here (Panama Fever, by Matthew Parker).  The engineering is amazing, and the location is beautiful, but it has a context and only became a reality at enormous cost in money, lives, and political relations with the countries of Central and South America.

 

The Miraflores Locks Visitor Center and Control Room just left of center in the photo.

A smaller ship exiting the Miraflores Locks.

 

Regardless of which way you go through the Canal, the trip begins and ends with locks, three at each end, with Gatun Lake in-between.  The average sea level of the Pacific Ocean end of the Canal is only 20 cm higher than the average sea level on the Atlantic Ocean (Caribbean Sea) end.  Because this difference is so small, the original “vision” for the Canal was a sea level transit with perhaps one lock.  However, the tidal range on the Pacific Ocean end is 20 feet whereas on the Atlantic Ocean end it is 3 feet.  Thus, locks were going to be needed at each end just to account for this difference.  The fact that the Canal also had to cross the Continental Divide, ultimately meant that ships would have to change elevation by even more than the difference in sea levels, and the locks would have to accommodate this difference in elevation.

Gatun Lake is the largest man-made lake in the world, and was formed by damming the Rio Chagres.  The Rio Chagres was a raging river that would rise 20 feet during floods.  It had to be “tamed” (controlled) if the Panama Canal was ever to become a reality.  There are three locks at each end to accomplish the 85 ft change in elevation from sea level to the level of Gatun Lake.  New locks were built at each end, alongside the original ones, to accommodate larger ships and were opened in 2016.  Just north of the southern locks (Miraflores /  Lake Miraflores / Pedro Miguel are the old ones and Miraflores West (Cocoli) are the new ones.  I think Lake Gatun “officially” begins at the northern end of the Miraflores Locks complex.

Heading north from the Miraflores Locks area we came to the Culebra Cut.  Generally considered the most difficult part of building the Canal, it is a massively excavated passage through the Continental Divide.  The Canal was taken up 85 feet and through this area as it offered the best chance of actually getting through the divide.

The official length of the Panama Canal is 51 miles, which doesn’t seem like much, but it took the NCL Joy about 9 hours to make the trip, including the locks at each end.  As we sailed under the Atlantic Bridge we (officially) entered the Caribbean Sea (Atlantic Ocean) and continued on to our next port, sailing all night to get there by sunrise.

Following are the bulk of the photos from the transit:

 

The Centennial Bridge at the Culebra Cut.  (Photo by Linda)

Paul, Linda, and Nancy with champagne glasses ready to toast our passage through the Culebra Cut.  (Linda is holding my glass while I take this photo.)  The “cut” was dug through the Continental Divide, and was the most difficult part of the Canal to create.

The sides of the “cut” are terraced to prevent erosion, which was a huge problem during the excavation of this passage through the Continental Divide.  (Photo by Linda)

Panama is a beautiful place with lush flora.

Panama is also a place with a long and troubled history.  This compound to starboard (right) is where Manuel Noriega was held before being extradited to the USA for trial.  (Photo by Linda)

At this point, we are through the Culebra Cut and passing the town of Gatun on the right.  This town within the Canal Zone is the base of operations for much of the Canal maintenance.  Note the massive barge crane at the center-right edge of the photo.  This crane, named Titan (nicknamed Herman the German), is able to lift the older swinging lock gates for repair and maintenance.  A part of the history of the construction and operation of that Canal, Titan was built by Nazi for servicing U-Boats (submarines) during WW II.  At maximum height, the top of the boom is 374 feet above the water.  Like everything else connected with the Canal, it is massive.  (Photo by Linda)

We are passing a southbound cargo ship (tanker?) on Lake Gatun.  (Passing was always portside-to-portside.)  Most of the Panama Canal consists of Lake Gatun.  The lake was formed by a dam on the Rio Chagres near the northern end, and is still the largest man-made lake in the world.

Another view of Lake Gatun.  Channel markers are visible to port (left).  It was a generally lovely day for the transit with a mix of blue skies and clouds.  It was warm, but not uncomfortable on the deck (which always had a breeze from the movement of the ship) and we could go back into the stateroom if/when needed.

The clouds have filled in somewhat as we approach the northern end of the Canal and the end of the transit.

Approaching the new (2016 Panamax class) Gatun East Locks at the northern end of the Panama Canal.  The cargo ship that entered the Canal ahead of us this morning is in the locks.   The original Gatun Locks are off to the port (left) side out of the frame.

A small crowd of guests remains at the bow platform of the NCL Joy as we approached the Gatun East Locks and prepared to be lowered down to the level of the Caribbean Sea (Atlantic Ocean).  (Photo by Linda)

We are now close enough to the Gatun East Locks that a tug boat has taken up position on the port side of the bow to help guide the NCL Joy into the first basin.  (In a Q&A with the Captain of the NCL Joy, he was quite blunt about not needing the assistance of tug boats when maneuvering the Joy at docks, or elsewhere, and found their presence more bothersome than helpful.  I think he felt the same way about harbor pilots.)

As we entered the first basin of the Gatun East Locks, the ponds used as part of the system for emptying and filling the lock basins were visible on the port (left) side of the ship.  These ponds conserve some of the massive amount of water needed to operate the locks, where all of the water to fill the locks flows by gravity.

The water level in the first (Lake Gatun) basin has been lowered and the water lever in the second basin raised so that both basins are at the same water level, allowing the sliding gate to be opened so the NCL Joy can move to the second basin.

As the last lock gate opens, the NCL Joy has finally completed its journey from the Pacific Ocean, up and over (through) the continental divide, and back down to the Caribbean Sea (Atlantic Ocean).  It was quite a trip and we certainly had “the best seats in the house.”  (Photo by Linda)

As the NCL Joy exits the last basin at the current level of the Caribbean Sea, Paul points out the Puente Atlántico (Atlantic Bridge) and the Caribbean Sea beyond.

Passing under the Puerto Atlantic (Atlantic Bridge) and into the Caribbean Sea (Atlantic Ocean).

 

It was around 5 PM local time as we passed under the Atlantic Bridge, marking our transit time at 9 hours.  From here, the ship headed north (N) and then northeast (NE) for a short way  before turning East East North (EEN) on a fairly direct course for Cartagena, Columbia where we were scheduled to enter the harbor around sunrise.

 

As we pass through the breakwater that protects the harbor at Canal terminus at Colon, Panama we sailed into the Caribbean Sea and points east.

 

20230305 PCC 8 of12 – Panama City, Panama; Gateway to South America

[ This post contains 12 photos with captions. ]

SUNDAY 05 March – Panama City, Balboa, and the Panama Canal Zone

 

A photo from last night of the other cruise ship next to the NCL Joy just after leaving the dock.  It will head around to the right (west) and position itself in the queue to enter the Panama Canal tomorrow morning.  (Photo by Linda.)

The other cruise ship heading towards the Pacific Ocean entrance to the Panama Canal just before 8 AM for the beginning of its scheduled transit of the Canal.  The ship left the dock next to us last evening to queue up in Panama Bay for its transit this morning.  A lot of ships move through the Canal every 24 hours, and it’s imperative that ships with reservations arrive at the first lock (at either end) exactly on time.

Panama City was the only port where we stayed overnight; in this case for two nights, before transiting the Panama Canal.  This meant that passengers had a chance to go ashore last night and take in the life of the city after sunset.  It also meant that passengers (and some crew) had a full day today to explore the area, either on a shore excursion or on their own without fear of not getting back to the ship on time.

 

The road leading out of the port/dock area and onto the causeway to the mainland.  (Photo by Linda.)

Paul and Nancy arranged a private tour of Panama City while we signed up for one of the shorter ship-arranged shore excursions.  Our excursion was aboard a motorcoach with an excellent tour guide and focused mostly on the southeastern end of the Canal Zone in Balboa, now a NW suburb of Panama City.  (The Panama Canal runs from Panama City northwest to Colón at the other end.)  We had read about the history and operation of the Canal in the book Panama Fever (by Matthew Parker) before arriving here, and the history/technology of the Canal was what interested us most about the area.  The following, however, is excerpted from the Wikipedia entry “Panama Canal Zone”:

 

 

 

The Panama Canal Zone … was an unincorporated territory of the United States, located in the Isthmus of Panama, that existed from 1903 to 1979. It was located within the territory of Panama, consisting of the Panama Canal and an area generally extending five miles (8 km) on each side of the centerline, but excluding Panama City and Colón.  Its capital was Balboa.

The Panama Canal Zone was created on November 18, 1903 from the territory of Panama; established with the signing of the Hay–Bunau-Varilla Treaty, which allowed for the construction of the Panama Canal within the territory by the United States. The zone existed until October 1, 1979, when it was incorporated back into Panama.

In 1904, the Isthmian Canal Convention was proclaimed. In it, the Republic of Panama granted to the United States in perpetuity the use, occupation, and control of a zone of land and land underwater for the construction, maintenance, operation, sanitation, and protection of the canal. From 1903 to 1979, the territory was controlled by the United States, which had purchased the land from its private and public owners, built the canal and financed its construction. The Canal Zone was abolished in 1979, as a term of the Torrijos–Carter Treaties two years earlier; the canal itself was later under joint U.S.–Panamanian control until it was fully turned over to Panama in 1999.

 

(Photo by Linda.)  The Biomuseo (Bio-Museum) building.  From the Wikipedia entry “Biomuseo”:  “The Biomuseo is a museum focused on the natural history of Panama, whose isthmus was formed very recently in geologic time, with major impact on the ecology of the Western Hemisphere.  Located on the Amador Causeway in Panama City, Panama, it was designed by renowned architect Frank Gehry. This is Gehry’s first design for Latin America. The design was conceived in 1999 and the museum opened on 2 October 2014.  The Biomuseo highlights Panama’s natural and cultural history, emphasizing the role of humans in the XXI century. Its galleries tell the story of how the rise of the isthmus of Panama changed the world.” …

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Although no longer under direct US control or military protection, the “Canal Zone” still exists as a highly secured area.  This is one of many entrance gates.  The lettering on the arch reads “CANAL DE PANAMA”.  (Photo by Linda.)

While the long-term goal is to have the Canal operated and maintained by Panamanians, it remains the case today that many of the people operating the canal are US citizens who are also training Panamanians to take over those roles.

 

Much of our shore-excursion focused on the infrastructure that was built to house the administration, construction, and health care facilities as well as the housing needed by the canal employees, and U.S. military bases and personnel.  These facilities remain in use today, some still attached to canal operations while others are being converted into private or other public uses such as housing, schools, and health care facilities.

One of the many housing areas in Balboa original built to house the thousands of U.S. workers who oversaw the building and operation of the Canal.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The main administration building of the Panama Canal Company, still in use for its original purpose today by the Panama Canal Authority, part of the Government of Panama.  The operation of the Canal is a large, technically complex endeavor, and generates a significant portion of the revenues that flow into the Government of Panama.  (Photo by Linda.)

A view of the Miraflores Locks from the Visitor Center observation building, looking back towards the Pacific Ocean.  Between the road and the lock basin are the train tracks for the “mules” that control the movement of the ships through these locks.  The Miraflores locks are the original ones but are still in use for all but the newest/largest ships, which do not fit the length, width, or draft limitations.  The new locks, which accommodate much larger ships, are out of sight to right in this photo.  (Photo by Linda.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One of the control buildings for the Miraflores Locks.  The gates are closed, separating the basin on the left at a low-water level, from the basin on the right at a high-water level.  Water flows in and out of these basins by gravity.  The gates are only swung open when the water level on both sides is exactly the same.  This is conceptually the same technology that was used hundreds of years ago in Great Britain to create the canal system there; although the scale is much larger here.  The newer locks (opened in 2016) do not use swinging gates.  They use sliding doors (like pocket doors) instead.  (Photo by Linda.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We were there!  (Photo by Linda.  Not photoshopped, promise.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The U.S. Embassy.  The Torrijos–Carter Treaties treaty that returned sovereignty of the Panama Canal Zone to Panama as well as primary responsibility for its defense, nevertheless also preserved that right of the USA to intervene militarily if the Canal and its neutral operation (open to ships of all nations) should be threatened at any time in the future.  (Photo by Linda.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A view of Panama City from the balcony of our stateroom.  The Joy remained at the dock until early the next morning, when it departed to queue up for the transit.

 

20230304 PCC 7of 12 – At sea & Panama City, Panama (Day 1)

[ This post has 25 photos with captions. ]

 

SATURDAY 04 March – Enroute to, and arrival at, Panama City, Panama

Again, our original itinerary had us stopping in Puerto Caldera (Puntarenas), Costa Rica but the revised itinerary skipped this stop and went directly to Panama City, Panama.  We would have liked to stop in Costa Rica, but recalled that shortly before NCL changed the itinerary in early October 2022, the US State Department had issued a travel advisory against visiting the country.  We don’t know if this was the reason for the change, but it seemed to be more than coincidental.  Something similar might have been true for Nicaragua, but we did not recall any advisories regarding travel there.  It was possible that the other changes in the itinerary might have been a domino effect from the loss of the Costa Rica stop, but we were never informed of the reasons for the changes.  And  it’s worth noting that these kinds of changes are always part of the booking contract; the cruise lines do not guarantee their itineraries.

 

We were at sea for most of the day, however, and made good use of the time.  This was the only day that the NCL Joy was doing “behind the scenes” tours of the ship.  We knew ahead of time that this experience would be very limited, and signed up for the tour (they treat it as a “shore excursion”) as soon as possible after we got on the ship in the Port of Los Angeles.  It turned out that they only offered the tour on this day while we were at sea, and only offered two groups, both of which were limited in the number of participants.  Here are some images of parts of the ship where I was allowed to take photos or there was something interesting to see.

A view of the main kitchen under the Manhattan dining room at the aft of the ship.

The Linda/Nan culinary team enjoying their tour of the NCL Joy main kitchen facilities.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A view of the laundry facility.  The machines to the right are used to press certain clothing items, such as officers’ uniforms.

Another view of the pressing portion of the laundry facility.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Some of the washing machines in the laundry facility.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This machine irons napkins.  The napkins shown here (with the blue banding) are unique to the buffet dining area.  The laundry facility handles approximately 6,000 of these napkins every day.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This machine irons and folds bedding.  The operator hangs the sheet and then the arms spread apart and feed it into the rollers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Folder sheets coming off of the machine in the previous photo.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our behind-the-scenes tour of the NCL Joy included a visit to the bridge.  Shown here is the helm/navigation station in the center (side-to-side).  The bridge covers the entire width of the ship at the forward end of Deck 14, and extend beyond the sides of the ship on both the port and starboard sides.  All of the bridge officers have their living quarters immediately aft of the bridge.  We also got to visit the engine control room (but not the engine room, for safety reasons).  I found all aspects of the ships operation to be fascinating, but the control room and bridge caught my interest in particular.

A view towards the port side wing station of the bridge.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The port side wing station looking aft.  The ship can be driven from this location, which is used when docking using the port side of the ship.  The pilot has a clear view of the port side of the ship, for and aft, as well as down through a glass portion of the floor.

There are a lot of controls at the port side wing station, and yet it had a beautiful, clean layout.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The view looking aft from the port side wing station of the bridge.

 

We were never south of the equator on this cruise, so that experience is still somewhere in our future.  While I did not make note of our most southern latitude, it had to occur somewhere between the southern tip of Isla Jicaron (7.2 deg N) and the southern edge of the peninsula southwest of Panama City that forms the western edge of the Gulf of Panama (also 7.2 deg N).

 

Prior to this, our furthest south latitude was around 16 deg N when we visited Roatán, Honduras on our second Holistic Holiday at Sea cruise on the MSC Poetia in March 2013.

 

 

An example of the map that was constantly available as part of the ship/route information on the monitors in our stateroom.  The NCL Joy’s location is the yellow arrow with the red circle, center bottom of the screen, heading north into Panama Bay.  Panama City is the orange area ahead of (N) and slightly to the left (NNW) of the ship.  The Pacific Ocean terminus of the Panama Canal is at Panama City (Balboa) and runs NW to it’s Atlantic Ocean (Caribbean Sea) terminus at Colon.  Gatun Lake is a major portion of the Canal.

This larger view of the area shows the location of our ship relative to both North and South America.  The ship’s track is shown from (just before) Acapulco, Mexico to Puerto Quetzal, Guatemala, and then to Panama City, Panama.  Our next port of call after transiting the Panama Canal will be Cartagena, Columbia, so it’s clear that our farthest south latitude was achieved as we rounded the peninsula to the southwest of Panama City.

I included this photo to give a better sense of our location relative to the equatorial portion of South America as well as the relative closeness of Africa.

Linda contemplates our arrival in Panama City.  The coast of Panama is faintly visible on the horizon.

Panama City sits on the northeast side of the Pacific entrance to the Panama Canal.  It is the capital of Panama, and has a modern, impressive skyline facing the ocean.  It is sometimes compared to the Miami (USA) shoreline, and has become a jewel of, and gateway to, South America.  And yes, it is considered to be in South America, the official dividing line between North and South America being the Panama Canal (which runs from SE to NW when going from the Pacific Ocean to the Caribbean Sea).

As we came into Panama Bay and approached Panama City, we saw more and more ships “anchored out”.  The number was impressive.  We eventually learned to many (most?) of them were waiting to transit the Panama Canal.  Ships transiting the Canal are able to make a reservation or can anchor in the harbors on either end and wait for an opening.  The wait can be as much as three (3) weeks, but is less expensive than a reserved entry time.

Coming into the cruise ship dock and terminal area.  This area is at the end of a long, man-made causeway, so Panama City proper is not really accessible by foot and requires some form of transportation to get into town.  A major improvement project was underway while we were there, but was not an issue.  A smaller cruise ship was already at the dock.  The ship in the distance has just exited the Panama Canal.

Panama City had lots to offer, however, and was the only port where we stayed overnight; in this case for two nights.  We are not “night life” people, and did not leave the ship this evening, but other passengers went ashore to explore and take in the life of the city after sunset.

 

 

 

The next day, Paul and Nancy arranged a private tour of Panama City while we signed up for a ship-arranged shore excursion, which I cover in the next post.  In the meantime, here are a few more photos from today:

A view of the Panama City skyline as Paul and I observe the docking process from our stateroom balcony.  (Photo by Linda.)

We were scheduled to arrive at the dock in Panama City around dinner time, so we opted to have dinner in our stateroom, allowing us to conveniently watch the whole process.  Panama City is visible through the doorwalls and the location map is showing on the monitor

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A better view of our meal.  Salud!  (Photo by Linda.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A composite image of 10 photos of the Panama City harbor skyline and the causeway that leads out to the cruise ship terminal and dock.  The water on the other side of the causeway leads (to the right) to the beginning of the Panama Canal.

The Centennial Bridge, visible in this photo, is usually taken as the official Pacific Ocean terminus of the Panama Canal.  (Photo by Linda.)

The Panama City skyline at night, as the other cruise ship leaves the dock to position itself in the Bay for its scheduled transit of the Panama Canal.

 

202303(02-03) PCC 6of12 – Puerto Quetzal & Antigua, Guatemala & a sea day

[ There are 23 photos in this post.  Most of the text is in the form of captions. ]

 

THURSDAY 02 March – Puerto Quetzal & Antigua, Guatemala

Arriving at the dock in Puerto Quetzal, Guatemala under the cover of darkness.  It was a tricky entrance, but the captain handled it like he was parking a small car in an empty parking lot.

One of the active volcanos we passed on the motorcoach ride from Puerto Quetzal to Antigua, Guatemala.  (Photo by Linda)

Antigua, Guatemala.  Our motorcoach was parked on this street, over the rise in the road, along with many others.  In the background, Volcán de Aqua towers over the city and was visible from most places.

We arrived at Puerto Quetzal, Guatemala around 7 AM.  Guatemala has a relatively short Pacific coast, and Puerto Quetzal is the only port of any size.  It is primarily an industrial port, but more than willing to welcome and accommodate cruise ships.

 

There was nothing of interest for tourists in the immediate port area, but that was OK.  We had signed up for a shore excursion to Antigua Guatemala, a 2-hour bus ride from sea level to 1545 m (5069 ft).  A relatively small old city nestled high up in the mountains, it is surrounded by volcanoes, some of which are still active.  To the south, Volcán de Aqua, dominates the skyline at 3,766 m (12,356 ft).  One of the volcanoes was “smoking” as we drove past.

 

 

A small slice of the Mayan history portion of the Jade Museum in Antigua, Guatemala.  Those of us walking the city on our own gathered here first to use the restrooms and learn a bit about history of the area and city.

Antigua was Guatemala’s colonial capital from ~ 1543 to 1773 when it was severely damaged by an earthquake and the Capital was moved to present day Guatemala City.  Many of the buildings were restored, however, and it is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site renowned for its Spanish Colonial architecture.

 

We did not do a guided tour, but merely wandered around the city soaking in the sites.  We also learned that there are still many people in Guatemala with Mayan ancestry, and 31 dialects of the Mayan language are still spoken here.  This corroborated what we had learned some years ago on our visit to the Mayan ruins at Tulum in the Yucatan peninsula.  We were definitely in a place that was different from any place we had ever been before, and we enjoyed our walk through history.

 

A street seller of hats crosses the central plaza in front of the main government building.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The main government building on the north side of the central plaza.

Proof that we were here.  The two of us in front of the government building.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This cathedral fronts the central plaza on the east side.

The central isle leading to the altar of the cathedral.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The entrance arch to the main cathedral complex.

On north side of the entrance arch looking back to the south.  Note how Volcán de Aqua to the south towers over the city of Antigua.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The front façade of the cathedral.  I believe the building to the left is the monastery.

As we walked the streets of Antigua, Guatemala, we often saw openings like this that appeared to lead into very inviting courtyards.  Some of them were hotels, some were retail spaces, and some appeared to be private residences.  The street-facing parts of most buildings had a very old and minimally maintained appearance, but we suspected that once away from public view, the interiors were much nicer.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I had to get a picture of this, as it was not something I’ve ever seen in the USA.  This van has Argentina plates and the wording under the window, “De Argentina Hasta Alaska” makes it clear what journey the owners are on.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A view down a less crowded street somewhat away from the center of the city.  Many buildings here were rebuilt/restored after he devastating earthquake of 1773, but not all of them.  There were several abandoned/decaying churches, like this on (on the right) throughout the city, but many others were still in use.

A view down another street, again away from the center of the city.  The closer we were to the center of the city the more the streets were choked with vehicles.  Most of the streets and avenues, however, where “Una Via” (one way), which they needed to be as there was usually only enough space for one vehicle to get through.

The remains of this church were not far from where our motorcoach was parked.  I believe it was one of the buildings damaged in the 1773 earthquake, and never rebuilt.

I am interested in motorcoaches, of course, but the main reason for this photo was to capture the shear number of these conveyances that had descended on Antigua the day we were there.  On the other side of the plaza there are ~10 motorcoaches on each side of the dead-end street.  (They all backed in.)  The street on our side of the plaza had a similar number of motorcoaches in the same arrangement.  40 motorcoaches times an average of 50 passengers each is ~2,000 people.  It sounds like a lot, but there were many, many more people than that on the streets of Antigua while we were there.

Because some of the shore excursions were of very long duration (over 8 hours) the NCL Joy did not leave Puerto Quetzal until after sunset.  Although tugboats were at the ready, the captain backed the ship out, reversing how he had brought it in early this morning in the dark.  Some very impressive maneuvering, indeed. (The Joy is over 1,000 feet long and (~130) feet wide.)

Since our stateroom faced forward (towards the bow) we were treated to a spectacular view of the commercial shipyard lit up and working.  The number of containers being handled here would only be exceeded by what we later saw in Cartagena, Columbia.  But that will have to wait for a few more days.

 

FRIDAY 03 March– At Sea

After leaving Puerto Quetzal, Guatemala, we continued cruising along the Pacific Ocean coasts of Nicaragua and then Costa Rica.  Land is just barely visible in the haze towards the left side of the photo, but I do not know how far south we were by this point.

Our original itinerary had us in San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua today but the revised itinerary turned it into another day at sea.  We were disappointed that Nicaragua was removed from the itinerary, but glad to have had the chance to visit Antigua, Guatemala.  Plus, our sea days were quite comfortable aboard the Joy.  It was during this leg of the trip that we saw occasional large pods of dolphins, flying fish, and a large number of sea turtles, singly or in small groups, float past the ship.  These were highlight experiences for us, but difficult to capture in photos.  We spent many hours of rapt attention focused on the water ahead of the ship, looking for the telltale signs of ocean life.

Dolphins off the port bow coming towards the ship!  Make that, a LOT of dolphins.

The ship had stumbled upon a superpod of dolphins and we had a front row seat to the show.  Some quick research revealed that dolphins usually live in family groups of 10 to 12 individuals, but sometimes these units gather in superpods.  Our best guess was that there were at least a couple of hundred individuals in this group.  We assumed they were hunting and had found a large school of fish, but we had no idea what kind.

2023(0228-0301) PCC 5of12 – Acapulco, Mexico & at sea

[ There are 8 photos in this post.  Much of the text is in the form of captions. ]

 

TUESDAY 28 February – Acapulco, Mexico

We arrived in the harbor at Acapulco, Mexico in the pre-dawn hours and proceeded to moor at the cruise ship dock under the first vestiges of the rising sun.  This is a composite image of 10 photos showing a 180-degree view from our stateroom balcony.  The image is actually 1920×418, so might be viewable at that resolution if clicked and displayed on an appropriate device.

The NCL Joy slowly nudges up to the dock at the cruise ship terminal.  The building with the open doors facing the water was eventually filled with motorcoaches waiting to take cruise ship guests on numerous shore excursions.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A view from the inside end of our front balcony.  You might be able to see through the glass at the right down into the Haven front lounge on deck 17 below.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A view of Acapulco looking forward from our stateroom balcony.

We arrived in Acapulco, Guerrero state, Mexico and docked at the cruise ship area.  We had not arranged a shore excursion here, opting instead to disembark and wander around on our own.  As a general rule, we would never wander very far on our own as the ship will not wait for us if we are late getting back.  With ship-organized shore excursions, however, you are guaranteed that the ship will not leave without you (as long as you don’t separate yourself from the excursion guide/group).

We disembarked from the Joy and strolled along the sidewalk between the main road and the shore towards the up-scale end of town across the harbor.

Looking back towards the NCL Joy from the promenade along the shore leading away from the cruise ship terminal.  You don’t really understand the size of these large cruise ships until they next to something that provides a sense of scale.

Acapulco was noticeably larger than Cabo San Lucas but we confined our walking to the area NE of the dock.  Once the hangout of Hollywood elites (a long time ago), the “party” had since shifted to Cabo.  There is still a lot of money and nice housing here, but we did not see those areas up close, and what we did see did not entice us to return.  We got the impression that Puerto Vallarta would have been more interesting, and were disappointed that it had been removed as a port-of-call from the itinerary.

A view of the Acapulco harbor as the NCL Joy heads back out to sea.  (This is a composite of 10 photos and might be viewable at 1920×294 if clicked on an appropriate device.)  We arrived this morning in the dark but departed around 5 PM.

 

WEDNESDAY 01 March – At Sea

One of the TV channels on the ship provided continuous information about the ship’s position, heading, and speed, as well as weather information.  We often had this on when we were in the stateroom, with the sound muted.  Even though the Joy was consistently doing 20 to 22 knots, the distance down Mexico’s Pacific Ocean coast is considerable.  One of the things we did not anticipate was that we rarely had clear skies at night.  I never discovered the actual reason for this, but my presumption was the warmer and somewhat more humid air the farther south we traveled.

Our last look back at Acapulco, Mexico  from the port side of our stateroom balcony as the NCL Joy leaves the harbor and heads out into the Pacific Ocean.

202302(26-27) PCC 4of12 – Cabo San Lucas, Baja California Sur, Mexico

[ There are 12 photos in this post.  Much of the text is in the form of captions. ]

 

SUNDAY 26 February – Cabo San Lucas, Mexico

A pleasant morning on the balcony heading towards Cabo San Lucas, Mexico.  In this view looking towards the center of the ship, the bulkhead at the far end of the balcony is the port side wall of the open space above the center of the Haven front lounge on deck 17.

We arrived in Cabo San Lucas, Baja California Sur (BCS) state, Mexico around 11 AM.  Cabo does not have a cruise ship dock, so we anchored out and took tenders to the NCL dock in the commercial/tourist marina area.

 

This was not the first time we had set foot in Mexico, having spent the 2014-15 snowbird season in Quartzsite, Arizona, and visiting Los Algodones in northern Baja California (on the California USA border).  It was also not the furthest south we had been, at ~N22.87o.

 

In the morning hours heading into the Cabo area, we finally saw whales!  Humpback whales, specifically.  Always an amazing sight, we never tire of seeing these magnificent mammals of the sea.

 

As part of our second Holistic Holiday at Sea cruise on the MCS Poetia in March 2013, we visited Playa del Carmen (N20.63o) and Tulum (N20.215o) in Yucatan state, Mexico (Yucatan peninsula), and Roatán, Honduras (N16.264o).  When I retired in 2012, we also got near the southern tip of the island of Hawaii (the big island) (we got to ~N19.058o).  (The farthest west we have been, to date, was the island of Oahu, Hawaii, ~ W158o)

More of our stateroom balcony looking to the port side of the ship.  It curves around and continues down the port side past the master bedroom/bathroom suite.  The first portion is accessible as part of this main/front deck.  A small portion farther aft is only accessible from the master suite.

With land now clearly in sight, Linda contemplates our journey to the southern tip of the Baja California peninsula and Cabo San Lucas.

Four photos were used to create this composite image of the main cruise terminal tender dock area in Cabo San Lucas, Baja California Sur, Mexico.  (You might be able to see it full size on an appropriate device by clicking on it.)  The harbor was deep enough for the NCL Joy, but there are no cruise ship docks.  Small boats (tenders) are used to transport guests and crew to/from shore.  This was our first port-of-call after leaving the Port of Los Angeles, and we were glad to see that crew members were allowed shore call, depending on their ship duties at the time we were there.

Another view of the main marina area, a bit further on around to the right from the previous composite image.  There were some big private yachts here, in addition to lots of more normal sized, but still very nice, pleasure boats.  There were also a lot of condo / timeshare developments here, and the port area was lined with shops and restaurants (of course).  Cabo has a reputation as a party town and can be noisy around the harbor until late into the night (according to some Youtube channels I follow).  We left around dinner time, so were not bothered by any of that.

Our ship, the Norwegian Cruise Lines (NCL) Joy.  (You might be able to see it full size on an appropriate device by clicking on it.)  As this is the port side, our stateroom is visible at the very front (bow/left) on the first enclosed deck down from the top.

These rocks are WSW of the port/marina portion of Cabo San Lucas.  El Arco (The Arch rock) is visible.  Our sightseeing boat got a bit closer, but the area was crowded with lots of smaller personal boats.

I noticed that many of the motorcoaches being used to bus cruise ship quests to their various venues had this unusual mechanism on their steer tires.  It appeared to be a tire inflation device designed to allow the wheel/tire to turn, but I have no idea if that was actually the case.

We had booked a shore excursion and made our way to the rendezvous point.  The excursion started with a boat trip around the harbor that included a view of El Arco (The Arch rock).  Back at the dock, our group was then escorted to a waiting motorcoach.

 

We visited a glass factory with a glass blowing demonstration.  The factory makes various objects, both functional and decorative, out of recycled glass and has been in operation for quite a long time.  From the glass factory, we visited a viewpoint on a headland across the harbor from the main port area, and had some light refreshments.  Our tour guide, bus driver, and the people operating the boat were all very gracious and spoke English well enough that we could understand them without difficulty.

The glass-blowing demonstration in progress.  We are sitting in the back/top row of a set of wooden bleachers.  The small parking lot was crowded with motorcoaches when we arrived, and was still crowded when we left.  There was another cruise ship in the harbor at the same time as us, and this is a popular shore excursion destination.

While the glass factory was interesting, and the viewpoint was nice, our general impression of Cabo was that we did not need to return anytime soon.

 

It has a reputation as a party town, with restaurants, bars, and timeshares crowded into and around the port/marina area.  The harbor is often crowed with boats and loud music can be heard late into the night.  At least that’s the impression I have gotten from Youtube videos.  All of this was congruent with our first-hand experience of the place.  Our stateroom in the Joy really did provide a “haven” from all of that.  The ship departed at 7 PM and continued south, so whatever partying might have occurred after dark, we were none-the-wiser.

 

MONDAY 27 February – At Sea

The final product of the glass-blowing demonstration; a turtle with a sombrero and bottle of tequila.

In early October, 2022 NCL changed the original itinerary for this cruise.  We were supposed to be in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico today, but spent the entire day at sea instead and overnight into the 28th.  This part of the cruise took us across the mouth of the Sea of Cortez and then along the Pacific Ocean coast of the mainland of Mexico.

 

The roof leading from the workshop/demonstration area to the showroom / retail market area.  The roof is a famous feature of this facility, and one of the reasons tourists visit this business.

Besides dining, on “at sea” days we took in the shows in the main theater and checked out The Social, a small venue with comedians and other entertainment.

 

We had almost all of our meals with Paul and Nancy, but on many of our “at sea” days, they had dinner in one of the specialty restaurants.  We did not make use of the specialty dining during the cruise and dined at the Haven restaurant or in the Garden Café (buffet style) on these occasions.  We found the buffet quite acceptable, and enjoyed the variety of things that were available, including vegan options.

A view of the harbor at Cabo San Lucas, Mexico looking southwest towards the main port/marina area from restaurant / event venue on a headland on the northeast side of the bay.

 

202302(24-25) PCC 3of12 – The Norwegian Joy:  Embarkation, Departure, and the Ship

[ There are 25 photos in this post.  Some of the text is in the form of captions. ]

 

FRIDAY 24 February – Embarkation and Departure

The rainy weather moved into the Long Beach area overnight but our Uber was able to pick us up under the canopy in front of the Staybridge Hotel near the Long Beach airport and drop us off at the Port of Los Angeles (also in Long Beach) under similar cover.  We had an embarkation window of 11:30 to noon, and arrived just ahead of that time.  We had received text messages yesterday changing our terminal, and had the Uber driver take us to the new location.  Upon arrival at the terminal, we were a bit perplexed, as our ship was nowhere in sight.  The terminal was also not what Nancy and Paul expected, based on previous experience with NCL, and not what we had been told to expect with respect to the Haven (ship within a ship) “experience” on the Joy.

Everything seemed “makeshift” and that, indeed, turned out to be the case.  The Joy was at a different dock, but the high winds of the last few days had damaged the tents that had been set up to serve as the welcoming and processing center, so those operations had to be moved last minute to our present terminal.  A separate waiting area had been created for guests in the Haven, but it wasn’t a comfortable lounge and we waited for quite a while before being escorted on a long walk to an area with several dozen motorcoaches were waiting to shuttle us to the ship.  It turned out that NCL had been scrambling since yesterday to hire as many of these motorcoaches as they could find in the area.

At dinner in the Haven Restaurant (photo by Paul or Nancy).

Once our bus was full, we were then driven to where the ship was actually docked, and went through the actual embarkation process, which was not especially well organized.

We had been told we would have separate, priority access to the ship and be taken directly the Haven in time to have a relaxing lunch, but that didn’t happen, as the process of getting from the terminal onto the ship was quite lengthy, the Port of Los Angeles staff did not appear to know what they were doing, and some of the PoLA security people were actually a bit rude.

Linda, Nancy, and Paul in our stateroom.

We eventually made it to our room, however, as did all of our luggage.  Our bottle of champagne was there waiting for us, even though the ice had melted by now, but we were not in a festive enough mode to enjoy anyway, and decided to save it for some other occasion.  While not the embarkation we expected, in the end, we were all in our stateroom in the Haven with all of our luggage, and were able to relax before going to dinner.

Bruce, Nancy, and Paul in our stateroom.

The ship was scheduled to depart at 4 PM and actually pulled out closer to 5 PM under heavy mist.  Once out of the port, the Pacific Ocean had big swell, but the Joy handled it well.

The ship can accommodate up to 5,000 guests, but there we not that many on board this particular cruise.  We had dinner in the Haven restaurant, a place we would visit frequently during the cruise and be one of the highlights of the ship for us.

Back in our suite, which was certainly the main highlight of the ship for us, we unpacked our luggage and set up our bedroom and on-suite bathroom.  We also met our butler, Isidro, and our stateroom attendant, Harold.  It was immediately obvious that we would be treated to a very high level of service on this cruise.  As something we were not accustomed to, it that took us a few days to become comfortable with this.  We eventually did, but we never took it for granted.

The following photos are a fairly complete tour of our stateroom:

The common area (living/dining) portion of our stateroom and one of the three doorwalls to our forward port side balcony as seen from the entry hallway.

Our stateroom entry hallway.  On the right (in this photo) from the entry door are a toilet room, a closet, and the door to our bedroom.

Our stateroom common area.  The “fireplace” did not produce heat, but did make a pleasant, low intensity light.

Our stateroom common area viewed from the bar.  The sofa was comfortable, and could convert into a bed, although we did not need to use it in that configuration.

The master bedroom, with the entrance to the master bathroom suite.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A partial view of the master bathroom (vanity and toilet alcove).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A partial view of the master bathroom (tube, shower, and dressing mirror).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our bedroom as viewed from the murphy bed, which is currently folded into the wall, looking towards the door from the hallway.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our bedroom as viewed from the murphy bed, which is currently folded into the wall, looking towards the desk and closet/storage area.  The on-suite bathroom is in the space behind the TV, entered from the hallway on the right.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A view of the murphy bed and entry door in our bedroom.  The bed is folded into the wall, making a sofa available.  We had our stateroom attendant (Harold) fold the bed out and leave it that way for the duration of the cruise.

A partial view of our on-suite bathroom (shower stall and part of the toilet).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Leaving the Port of Los Angeles in Long Beach, California, as seen from the common area of our stateroom looking out across our forward port side balcony.  It was cold, windy, and rainy, with limited visibility, but we were finally on our way.

 

SATURDAY 25 February – At Sea

Our first morning in our stateroom enjoying Nespresso in our NCL provided robes.  Good friends in a good place.

We were at sea all night on the 24th, all day on the 25th, and overnight into the 26th headed south along the California coast and then along the Pacific coast of Baja California and Baja California Sur (south), Mexico.

The sea eventually settled down a bit, but the coast was often shrouded in haze and/or clouds.  We were also far enough off shore that we couldn’t see land most of the time anyway.  (My presumption was that we were probably in international waters so the ship could operate the onboard casino.)  We took this time to familiarize ourselves with the ship, starting with the Haven.

The Pacific Ocean and the west coast of Baja California, Mexico, as seen from the balcony of our forward /  port side stateroom.  This was some of the best/clearest weather we had on our cruise down the coast.

The Haven is NCLs “ship within a ship” concept.  On the Joy, it occupies the front portion of Decks 17, 18, and 19, the front part of 19 being an open roof deck area.

The upper / aft deck of the NCL Joy had a 9-hole miniature golf course.  We played a round (and came back another day with Paul and Nancy for another one).

Deck 17 has a lounge with large windows across the entire front of the ship with a small buffet area that was stocked for a light breakfast or afternoon snack.  Just aft of the lounge were staterooms (all with outside balconies).  In the center was a small swimming pool, hot tub, and lounge chairs.  The area above this was open all the way to a retractable glass ceiling above Deck 19.  (We never saw the roof retracted.)  The aft portion of Deck 17 was a small lounge, small bar, and the concierge desk.  Behind the bar and concierge disk were the service elevators, which the concierge staff used to get us to the theater and to/from the embarkation deck.

The upper / aft portion of the ship also features a 2-level race track with electric formula style cars.  This is the pit area.  Cars are allowed to race head-to-head.  We did not try this activity, but it was interesting to watch people racing.

The forward portion of Deck 18 consisted of the two “Owner’s Suites” (2-bedroom staterooms), one on the port side (that was ours) and one on the starboard side.  In-between the two owner’s suites are the high ceiling of the front-center portion of the main lounge, with a library aft of it.

The remaining length of the port side, and about half of the starboard side, were staterooms, again all of them with outside balconies.  The aft portion of Deck 18 was the Haven restaurant (starboard side) and kitchen (center portion).

Every stateroom in the Haven had butler service, and one of the perks of staying here is that you can have your meals (from the Haven restaurant) in your room.  One of favorite perks of being in the Haven was that our butler brought coffee and breakfast baked goods every morning around 6:30 AM.

By sunrise, we had traveled far enough south to get to beautiful, clear weather and calmer seas.  Since we would be at sea all day, we took the opportunity to familiarize ourselves with the ship.  We were also able to see the Baja California, Mexico coast at times.

A portion of the outdoor lounging, walking, entertainment, and water activities area of the ship as seen from the aft potion looking forward.

This is a composite image of part of the Pacific Ocean coastline of the Baja California peninsula of Mexico.  Land is visible just at the horizon, along with some clouds, but probably too small to see in this photo.  The photo file is larger, and this image can be clicked to see it at a larger size on a device with a larger screen.

The outdoor lounging, walking, entertainment, and water activities area of the ship looking aft from the walkway above the large outdoor video screen.

Above the Haven (at the front of the ship) is the Star Wars laser tag area.  It has two entrances, fore and aft, for two competing teams to enter and battle it out.  Linda and I had just entered the aft portal as the venue was not in use.  We did not do this activity, and never saw or heard anyone else using it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This display shows the layout of the entire Star Wars laser tag venue.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Linda and Nancy at the wine tasting.

Shipboard activities also opened up.  Linda, Nancy and I (Bruce) booked a wine tasting while Paul booked a Single Malt Scotch tasting.  The wine tasting was run by the wine director (head sommelier?) for the ship and featured red wines.  It was unusual, but very well done, in that we tasted the wines in the reverse order from what is normally done, working from the sweetest to the driest, and pairing food items with each wine that were both appropriate and inappropriate.  This approach allowed us to actually experience and start to understand why each type of wine is usually paired with certain foods.

202302(20-21) PCC 1of12 – Preparing for a 15-night Cruise on the NCL Joy

[ Note:  This is the first of 12 posts covering a 15-night/16-day cruise from Los Angeles, California to Miami, Florida via the Panama Canal.  There are no photos for this post.  These posts were delayed due to work on the barn project and the time required to select and process photos.  Regular posts covering the barn project, travel, and general topics will resume after these 12 posts have been published. ]

 

20-21 February — Pre-Trip Preparations

As mentioned in my previous general post, Linda started packing for our upcoming Panama Canal cruise on the Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL) Joy (with our friends and RV travel buddies, Nancy and Paul), several days before our flight to Los Angeles, and I shifted my attention away from the barn project towards travel preparations shortly thereafter.  We made our final packing decisions for the trip on the morning of the 21st and, just after lunch, checked-in for our flight to Los Angeles the next day on DELTA Airlines.

I spent that afternoon finalizing blog posts for December 2022, our holiday trip to Disney World and Universal Studios, and the electric utility work that took place in January 2023.  I had all of those posts uploaded by 4:30 PM and was done with blog posts until after our cruise.

As also mentioned in my previous general post, I bought a new digital camera, settling on a Sony a6400 (APS-C) with a 16-50 mm E-mount zoom lens as the best compromise of size, weight, performance (specs), and price.  The cruise would be its first big test.

 

202302(01-21) – General Update (not the barn project)

WEDNESDAY 01 February — TUESDAY 21 February

Although this post is not (primarily) about the barn project, I did spend a lot of time during this period working on the electrical plan and researching devices, particularly lighting fixtures.  Happenings specific to the barn project will be covered in separate posts following this one.

 

WEDNESDAY 01

 I decided to buy a new digital camera for our upcoming Panama Canal cruise on the NCL Joy with our friends (and RV travel buddies) Nancy and Paul.  I wanted something small and light but good quality.  My birthday was just a few days away, so that was my additional “justification” for buying it (not that I really needed one).  After weighing various factors, including cost, I settled on a Sony a6400 with a 16-50 mm E-mount zoom lens.  I placed the order with B & H Photo Video, which has been my go-to place for photography equipment for a while now.

This will be my third Sony digital camera, and I have been very satisfied with the first two; a DSLR-a100 and a DSLR-a99.  ABIR, the DSLR-a100 was Sony’s entry into the digital camera space in 2006, having absorbed the Konica-Minolta A-mount system and lenses.  I have a fairly complete Minolta 9000 35mm film camera kit, and the fact that I could use my existing lenses with this new Sony camera was a big decision factor.  The only limitation was the 10 Mp APS-C sensor.  Besides the inherent resolution, this also meant my lenses produced more magnification than on a full-frame 35mm body.

I used the a100 a lot and eventually bought the DSLA-a99.  This was Sony’s highest end body at the time, with a full-frame (36mmx24mm) 24 Mp sensor, but maintaining the A-mount system.  Both of these bodies are true SLR designs, with flip-up mirrors.  The a99 is large and heavy, especially with the additional bottom-mount battery pack (like the motor drive attachments of old), but I like the way it feels in my hands.

 

FRIDAY 03

The new camera arrived today.  The a6400 has an APS-C sensor (25.1mm x 16.7mm) with the same 3:2 aspect ratio as a full-frame 35 mm sensor (36mm x 24mm), so it presents an image format with which I am familiar and comfortable.  That said, it is definitely small and light weight.  Significantly, it has a 24 Mp sensor, so the same resolution as my a99!   Also, the 16-50mm zoom lens provides the same field of view as a 24mm-75mm zoom lens on a full frame sensor camera.  This is similar to the range I have on my Sony/Zeiss 24mm-70mm zoom lens, which I use with the Sony a99 most of the time.  The kit lens is not of that quality, of course, but I am looking forward to the images I get from the new combination.  I still like my Sony a99, and I absolutely love my Sony/Zeiss 24mm-70mm zoom lens, but the combination is heavy, and I felt it was too much camera to take on this particular cruise.

The big tradeoff, of course, was the E-mount system for the lenses.  But it’s not like I had a choice within the Sony product line as Sony had officially abandoned the A-mount system sometime after I purchased the.  (The did bring out an a99-ii with a 42 Mp sensor, with a year of when I bought the a99, but the price was just too steep for a hobbyist.  Still, in retrospect I wish I had bought it.)  The other major difference (besides price) was that the a6400 is a “mirrorless” camera; the viewfinder, like the rear screen, is just a small monitor.  Again, this has it’s good and bad points, and the web, including Youtube, is cluttered with articles and videos that get into all of this.

 

SATURDAY 04

My birthday was on Saturday and the 14’ Werner Twin (2-sided) step ladder that I order from Lowe’s on December 3rd finally arrived at the store, so Linda and I went to pick it up in the F-150.  In order to carry it home, I had to move and re-secure the three large Rubbermaid tubs that collectively hold about 300 pounds of sand to add weight to the drive axle during the winter.  I needed to create a space in the center of the truck bed to allow the narrower top end of the ladder to sit in the bed (vertically) all to way to the front wall behind the cab.  Even then, with the tailgate down, the lower half of the ladder hung out way past the end of the lowered tailgate.  We took additional ratchet straps and large rubber bungee cords to lock it in place, and tied red plastic flags on the protruding end for the short trip home.  The ladder was strapped closed along with two packing boards.  As delivered, it weighed 86 pounds, and the combination of size and weight was quite a handful for the two of us.  But I have a lot of wiring to do in the barn, some of it 16 or more feet above the floor.  I did not want to do that with an extension ladder, and the only one we have is the Little Giant aluminum convertible unit that can be configured as a 14’ extension ladder.

 

SUNDAY 05

We had the family over for brunch to celebrate my birthday.  It’s always lovely when the entire immediate family is able to gather.

 

WEDNESDAY 15 February

The Motor City Electric Utilities boom truck in the SE corner of our yard.  The new utility pole (on the right) is already in the ground.

 

The wires have been moved to the new utility pole and the old pole has been “topped” in preparation for removal.

It turned out that the crew from Motor Cities Electric Utilities showed up this morning to replace the pole in the SE corner of our property.  In fact, it was same crew that was here in January to work on the pole for the house/barn and then started to work on this other pole before deciding to leave.  This pole replacement was NOT part of the barn project, however, but a regular maintenance item intended to replace an old pole with a new/taller one, with the added benefit of helping raise the lines across our driveway a bit higher.  (The new pole for the barn is also taller than the old one, and also helped raise the wires across our driveway and where they cross the street to the SW corner of our property.)

 

 

 

While they were working, I got a call back from the C/S person at DTE.  She had checked on this pole, and found out it was not a DTE work order, and had (probably) been initiated by either AT&T or Comcast (those would be the other two choices).  I thanked her for checking into this and getting back to me, and let her know that a contracted crew was here doing the work.  What surprised me about this was that I was under the impression that the utility easement was granted to DTE Energy, that the utility poles belonged to them, and that all other users “leased” access on the poles from DTE.  But then, the gas line that was run through our subdivision in 2013 is owned and operated by Consumers Power, and it was installed in the same utility easement, so perhaps I don’t correctly understand the arrangement(s) between these various companies viz-a-viz the rights to use the easement.

 

The old utility pole being lifted out of the ground by the crane on the boom truck.

 

As I thought about all of this, I remembered that back in October, but sometime after I had initiated the work with DTE, someone was walking down the street checking all of the utility poles.  I presumed he was working for DTE, but perhaps he was there on behalf of all of the utilities that use these poles.

 

The AT&T terminal box (gray) and the Xfinity broadband cable (orange) relocated (temporarily?) to the new pole.  I have no idea whether DTE communicated with AT&T about this, but it was suggested to me that I would like have to submit a request to have this dealt with and “pester” them until it is taken care of.  For that matter, I suspect that the Motor Cities Electric Utilities crew closed out their job on the secondary pole, but I don’t know who with, and whether or not they notified Comcast/Xfinity, as our broadband cable comes from this secondary pole, and it looks to me like they should (need to) come tidy it up as well.  So, I don’t know much, but I do know this, the crews that dealt with the poles and the power lines, made it clear that they are not allowed to do anything with the phone and broadband cables, other than move them out of their way and re-secure them as best they can.

SUNDAY 19

No barn work today.  Linda had already been packing for our upcoming cruise, and it was time for me to get serious about doing the same thing.

 

TUESDAY 21

 

We made our final packing decisions for our trip this morning and, just after lunch, checked-in online for our flight to Los Angeles tomorrow.  I spent the afternoon finalizing blog posts for December 2022, our trip to Disney World and Universal Studios over the holidays, and the electric utility work that took place in January 2023.  I had all of those uploaded by 4:30 PM and was done with blog posts until after our cruise.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

20220928 – A visit to the Eastman Museum in Rochester, New York and lunch at the Red Fern nearby

WEDNESDAY 28 September

(All photos taken with a Google Pixel 6 Pro smartphone.)

I was in bed before midnight last night, unusual for me, so I was up this morning just after 7 AM.  Linda did not go to bed until 11 PM and got up around 7:30.  We had our usual two cups of coffee, but Linda made pancakes for breakfast, with a side of fresh bananas, blueberries, and strawberries.  A special treat, and a nice way to start the day.

The weather forecast for today was for cool, overcast conditions, with small possibility of rain, but was much nicer for the following three days.  We thought we would visit some of the wineries on Canandaigua Lake as we are camped just north of it, so we spent some time researching the six establishments on the Canandaigua Lake Wine Trail.

The conservatory as seen from the dining room.  The console for the pipe organ is at the far end and some of the pipes are installed in the 1st and 2nd floor walls beyond that.  Most of the house was dimly lit, but the conservatory was full of light even on this overcast day.  Like many wealthy individuals of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, George Eastman liked to hunt and had two hunting lodges.  George Eastman House / Museum, Rochester, New York.

One of them was not open today, one was basically a wine store in Canandaigua, one had what appeared to be fruit juice infused wines that could be used to make spritzers, and one was a “boutique” winery that required reservations, and all of them appeared to be tasting rooms, not the actual wineries.  So that was:  no go, no, no way, and not interested.  Most of them indicated what grapes were used to make each wine but some didn’t, an absolute non-starter for us, and most of them were based on grapes that fairly commonly used in the products we can buy at good wine stores at home.

It didn’t seem worth the time and fuel to drive down just for the other two wineries, so we scraped the wine trail idea for today and decided instead to visit the Eastman Museum in Rochester, New York, just a 30-minute drive northwest of our campground.  I took up photography as a serious hobby when I was 16, so I’ve been trying to be a photographer for some 54 years now and the Eastman Museum seemed like a good place to spend an otherwise dreary day.  We left the KOA around 11:30 AM and were at the museum by noon.

Part of the stair case between the 1st and 2nd floors of the George Eastman House.  This is the view from the landing.  The stairs to the 3rd floor are visible, but were closed to public access.

The Eastman Museum is located on the grounds of George Eastman’s Rochester, New York 10-acre estate on East Avenue.  East Avenue was obviously the place where the wealthy of late 19th-century Rochester built their magnificent homes and mansions.  A trip to that area just to look at the architecture would have been worth the time, but we were they to visit the museum.

The museum complex included his magnificent home and gardens which are open to tour with paid admission.  Indeed, the museum (galleries, archives, offices, and labs), theater, gift shop, café, and lobby are joined to the house to form a single building.  The collection, small pieces of which are periodically rotated into the publicly accessible galleries, contains over 400,000 photographs and 28,000 motion pictures, including the original negatives for Gone with the Wind and The Wizard of Oz.  The museum also has an extensive collection of photographic technology going back to the earliest days of photography in the 19th century.  It’s an excellent museum, and we spent about 2-1/2 hours going through the house and all of the galleries.

The East Garden at the George Eastman House as seen from his mother Maria’s bedroom window.  Eastman Museum, Rochester, New York.

When we arrived at the Canandaigua-Rochester KOA yesterday, Linda research vegan dining options and discovered that Veg News had rated Rochester, New York “the best small city in America for vegans.”  That did not automatically translate into lots of vegan dining options, but she did locate the Red Fern, just 0.4 miles from the museum, so we went there for lunch.

The Red Fern was a small place in a half-basement (the upper half of the dinning room was above grade level), in a nice neighborhood, with a nice selection of items on the menu.  Linda had the ABLT (Avocado Bacon Lettuce Tomato) sandwich with a salad on the side, and I had the Buffalo Blue Cheese Focaccia sandwich, also with a salad on the side.  My sandwich was huge, so I only ate half of it and got a to-go box for the other half.  Linda had a chocolate brownie for dessert, and I had a crumb-top apple cider jam bar thingy.  The brownie was huge, so she only ate half of it and got a to-go box for the rest.  Everything was very tasty and reasonably priced (in our opinion).

The ‘modern’ 4-manual organ console.  This console replaced the original 30-manual console after the organ was enlarged.  It was, and probably still is, the largest pipe organ installed in a residence in the U.S.  George Eastman House / Museum, Rochester, New York.

From the Red Fern we set our navigation system for the Wegman’s supermarket in Canandaigua.  It took about 45 minutes to get there, including long slow rolls through the town of Victor and then Canandaigua itself.

This was our first ever visit to a Wegman’s and all I can say is “Wow!”  The store was very large and the variety of items they stocked, including some we had never seen before, was almost overwhelming.  Their whole-foo, plant-based (vegan) offerings were as good or better than we had ever seen anywhere else.  They also had a restaurant (drinks and live music on the weekends), a sub sandwich shop, and extensive deli section that included a “burger bar”, an “Asian bar”, and a “Sushi bar.”  You could even order Food to Go and drop by to pick up your prepared meal.  We didn’t actually need anything, but we found a vegan parmesan cheese, and picked up a container of Just Egg, some vegan butter, and a pack of paper bowls.  We will probably go back on Saturday and restock the refrigerator and panty before heading to Hershey, Pennsylvania on Sunday.

This opening is in the ceiling of the 2nd floor just above where the staircase from the first floor reaches the 2nd floor.  George Eastman House at the Eastman Museum, Rochester, New York.

What we did not find was the specific Dr. Elsey’s cat liter than Linda likes.  There was a Petco across the street, so we went there and, voila!, there was the specific liter that we had not seen since leaving home in mid-June.  Our shopping done, we returned to camp.

Back at camp there was another airstream travel trailer in our row, in addition to the one three rows back.  Another one came later, making four in our section of the RV park, including ours.  There was another one in the far west section when we arrived yesterday.  We didn’t notice if it was still here, so there might be five of them here.  That would be a surprisingly high percentage of the total occupancy at the moment.

For dinner, I finished my sandwich from lunch while Linda had a cheese sandwich and finished her brownie from lunch.  After dinner, she read while I worked on the blog posts and photos for yesterday and today.  At 8:30 PM, we streamed the next episode of The Great British Baking Show.  Linda headed off to bed at here usual 10 o’clock hour.  I stayed up long enough to finish and publish the blog posts for yesterday and today and made it to bed just after midnight.

The West Garden at the George Eastman House as seen from the  parking lot entrance at the Eastman Museum, Rochester, New York.

20220927 – A travel day; Verona, NY (TVaTSRvPk) to Canandaigua-Rochester KOA Holiday, Farmington, NY

TUESDAY 27 September

Linda was up this morning around 7:15 and I got up at 7:45.  Since it was a travel day, we each had a cup of half-caff coffee as soon as we got up, and a slice of toast with Mango-Peach jam for breakfast.  Check-out time was 11 AM, and the check-in time at our next location, the Canandaigua-Rochester KOA Holiday in Farmington, New York, was 1 PM.  We had less than 100 miles to travel, and all but ~5 miles would be on the New York State Thruway (I-90) at 65 mph.  Linda called the KOA to see if we could arrive early.  There was someone in the site, but they were required to be gone by 11 AM, so no problem arriving after that.  We targeted a 10:30 AM departure in order to be there by 12:15 – 12:30, and started breaking camp around 9 AM.

I often do not have too many photos (if any) for travel days, and we rarely venture out after we arrive and set up camp, other than a quick grocery and/or fuel run.  That affords me the time (luxury) of being able to wax philosophical, to contemplate and reflect on the more general experience of being extended-time RVers.  Thus, I seem to have the most to say on the days where we have had the least to do.

This was our second of two, two-night stays in a row.  We had a very nice stay at The Villages at Turning Stone RV Park in Verona/Oneida, New York.  It was an attractive, and well-maintained park, and we were able to do our laundry in their nice laundry room.  There wasn’t much for us to do here, however, as we had no intention of visiting the casino, the resort restaurant, or the live music venue.  Still, we could have sat here another day, especially if the rain let up and the sun re-appeared.  But also, because a two-night stay is actually more work than a one-night layover.

We go through the same process, and the same amount of work, for a two-night stay as for one of much longer duration.  For a one-night stay, we can often leave the truck and trailer hitched together and just plug in the shorepower cord.  We always travel with enough water in the fresh water tank that we can easily run off of that for a night or more (depending on how full the fresh water tank is, of course).  We also do not need to dump waste water before we pull out the next day.  That’s not a complaint, just the reasons we prefer to stay three or more nights wherever we stop.  It helps if there are also interesting/accessible things to see and do in the area.

The Villages at Turning Stone RV Park was on a municipal water supply, so I did not hook-up our freshwater pressure regulator, filter, and water softener when we arrived.  I also did not hook up the sewer hose because it was raining, and it wasn’t necessary that it be done right then.  But the tanks needed to be dumped before we pulled out, and that was my second departure task.  (My first one was to pack up my laptop computer and move our technology to the truck.)  We had prepared the trailer/truck for departure enough times by now that we had a good handle on how much time it would take; 1-1/2 hours allowed for a deliberate, but leisurely pace.

It took me quite a few small adjustments to line up the truck/stinger with the trailer/hitch, but I got it done.  The problem was the way the site curved out, restricting how far I could pull straight forward in front of the trailer.  I do better when I can start from farther away.  Even so, we were ready to go by 10:30, but decided to walk over to the office building and use the restrooms, as much to stretch our legs as anything else.  We pulled out of our site at 10:45 AM.

The drive on I-90 was smooth and uneventful, just the way we like it.  We took exit 43 at Manchester and dropped down onto NY-96, headed west to County 28 / Macedon Road, and then south to Canandaigua Farmington Town Line Road, which only ran west from there.  It was just over a mile to the KOA.  I was disappointed in our fuel economy, 10.5 mpg average, but we did travel at 65 mph for most of the trip, and the transmission shifted down frequently as we climbed grades.

Our rig, slightly left of center frame, as seen from the other side of the pond at the Canandaigua Rochester KOA in Farmington, New York.

We pulled into the KOA at 12:30 PM.  As usual, Linda got us registered while I sync’d my phone app to the LevelMatePro+ in the trailer.  We were assigned site 18, a 50A/FHU pull-through with a patio (W3W=”hottest.sesame.dishing“).  (This was the second time we had site #18 on our trip.)  It was clear how to get to it and pull in, but a man from the campground insisted on leading us there and directing us in.  Neither service was necessary, but the escort to the site was appreciated, and he was helpful in getting me on the gravel with the truck somewhat aligned with the trailer.  He was surprised, however, that our trailer door was towards the rear and positioned us in the site where he thought we would want to be, with the door/stairs opening onto the patio.  He was wrong, but that was OK.  Sometimes the best/only thing you can do is say “thank you.”  I indicated that I needed to reposition the rig slightly, both to level, side-to-side, and position it so the truck would fit in front of it.  He returned to the office to help the next arrival.

As it turned out, I was able to back the trailer up to a position where it was level, side-to-side without having to use any of our leveling components.  And it was only 3.75” low in the front, so that was easily adjusted after we secured the trailer tires and unhitched.  As a bonus, this location put our shore connections exactly opposite the utility hook-ups.  Winner, winner, tofu dinner.  I plugged in the shorepower while Linda moved Juniper-the-Cat to the trailer.  This is always a necessary first step, as I have to lift the rear seat in the truck to get to the tools we use to for the hitching/unhitching process.

There was rain in the forecast for later in the afternoon, but for now, it was sunny with a breeze, so I went ahead and hooked up the water and sewer hose.  We had seen fire hydrants along the road, so Linda had asked in the office if the park was on a municipal water supply.  It was, so once again I did not hook up the fresh water pressure regulator, filter, and water softener.  I powered up our Verizon Jetpack Mi-Fi and moved it around the rig to find the best signal.  It ended up on the nightstand in the bedroom this time, with the Netgear flat panel antenna attached looking north towards Farmington, and the Thruway.  All told, it took us about an hour to “make camp.”

For lunch, Linda reheated the leftover risotto from Sunday night’s dinner, and served it with a banana and a slice of Italian bread.  Yum.  We went for a stroll around the campground after lunch, and watched as additional RVs rolled in every now and then.  The park was far from full, but also far from empty.

The center of the rear section of the park was clearly seasonal sites, with a variety of RVs that had obviously not been moved in a long time.  Most of them had wood patio decks, and the usual paraphernalia that clearly identifies a seasonal (permanent) RV/site.  But we understand that seasonal/permanent RVs provide an important and reliable income stream for an RV park, while requiring minimal park employee labor.  Also, seasonal sites almost always have metered electric, so the RV park does not have to be concerned with how much power they use.  They do, however, have to read the meter (usually once a month) and collect payment from the customer.

Our walk took us by the office, where we chatted with the woman on duty (presumed to be the owner).  She gave us a variety of pamphlets and brochures on things to see and do in the area, especially wineries, as we expressed an interest in those.

Back at our rig, we both set up our computers.  I checked e-mail and then started working on today’s blog post while Linda checked her e-mail and then worked on entering and reconciling our financial transactions.

For dinner, Linda made black beans & rice in the Instant Pot.  (She also used this for the risotto on Sunday.)  I always find beans & rice a tad bland, but Linda had anticipated that and put the Chipotle Tabasco sauce on the table.  She put a little on hers too, and agreed that it “kicked it up a notch” (‘props’ to Emeril Lagasse).  After dinner we relaxed for a bit with our iPads until our Tuesday evening FBI programs on CBS started at 8 PM.  Linda was off to bed as soon as the shows ended at 11 PM, and I was in bed before midnight.

We are not in “vacation” mode, because we don’t take vacations, but we have migrated into a kind of “tourist” mode, and a “returning-to-life-at-home” mode as we have approached the end of our summer/fall 2022 grand tour.  (I think this started with the Pirate Cove Adventure Mini-Golf in Bar Harbor, Maine.)  Indeed, one of our main foci in the Finger Lakes region of New York will be visiting wineries/meaderies.  This region is known for its Riesling wines, and related wines like Gewürztraminer, so we will certainly be on the lookout for those, but probably won’t buy very many bottles of either as they are common wines easily found at good wine shops.  We will be looking for wines that are a bit different from our everyday choices, but still to our taste and within the price range we are willing to pay for fermented fruit juice.  This will include “fruit” (non-grape) wines, meads, and grape wines like Cabernet Franc and Rivaner.  (Black Tower Rivaner is supposedly available at the State Liquor Store in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, so I hope to buy some there if we don’t find another Rivaner wine before then.)

2016/04/01-05 (F-T) J-P-Shuffle CCAFS Farewell Celebration

2016/04/01 (F) The J. P. Shuffle

Linda was up before me and got to see one of the cruise ships come in at 6:20 AM.  She said it was all lit up and quite a sight.  I got out of bed at 8:20 AM and made coffee.  Linda prepared toast and jam for breakfast and gave each of us half of an orange.

I finished up my post for yesterday, worked on this one, and then noticed that an iOS 9.3.1 update was available for the Apple iOS 9.3 update that I installed Wednesday evening and Linda installed last night.  It was only 18 MB but still took a long time to download and install.

Today was April Fool’s Day and time for us to once again do “the Jetty Park shuffle.”  I have checked at least once, and often twice, each day to see if an appropriate full hookup site had become available through cancellation for Friday, Saturday, and Sunday nights, but it had not.  Around 10 AM I walked to the office to check one last time.  Scott Ward was the JP staff person on duty and was very helpful but a site was just not available.  He was able, however, to put us on site #357 for Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday night’s.  I shortened our stay on site #3 to two nights and paid the balance for the one night.

Site #3 is a water only site, no electricity and no sewer connection, and the rules say that NO pets are allowed in that section, which is right along the channel and outside the regular fenced campground.  The staff was aware, however, that we have two cats onboard and let us have the site anyway.  We do not ever want them to escape, but especially here.

Our generator can produce more power than we can get from a “50 Amp” RV electrical connection, so not having electricity is not really a problem.  The only real downsides, other than having to move, are that we can feel, hear, and sometimes smell the generator.  We also had a problem with a circuit breaker for its cooling fan last winter.  I made a temporary fix to it but have never fixed it permanently.  We also do not like to leave the genset running when we are away from the coach, such as will be the case on Saturday morning.

I selected/processed three photos of the manatees we saw on Tuesday at Merritt Island National Wildlife a Refuge and e-mailed them to Pat and Vickie.  I then replied to a couple of e-mails from Gary at Bus Conversion Magazine.  By this time it was 11 AM so we prepared the bus, inside and out, to be moved.  With all of the Windows and roof vents closed it warmed up quickly inside even with a lot of the coach in the shade.  When I turned the ignition key the engine turned over but would not catch and my heart just sank.

I really like this bus, but I have grown weary of the uncertainty of whether things will work when needed.  I turned the ignition key off and rechecked the transmission selector and parking brake settings.  I also switched the suspension out of Level Low to drive mode although that should not have mattered.  With the ignition key turned to the ‘ON’ position the 12 V chassis battery seemed a little low and a red light flashed a few times on the transmission selector, so I turned the key off, went to the outside battery disconnect switches, and turned both the 12V and 24V disconnects off and then back on.

Back in the driver’s seat I tried again.  Normally the engine only turns over a few times before it fires.  This time I let it turn for four or five seconds and it finally started.  If I had any sense I would have driven it to the W. W. Williams Detroit Diesel service center in Orlando, but I moved it to site #3 at J. P. instead.

Our coach in Site #3 at Jetty Park & Campground, Cape Canaveral, FL. This is the “water only” camping by the shipping channel. All of these rigs are parked facing north towards the channel. It’s a great spot to watch the ships come and go.

To get from site #358 to site #3 I had to exit the fenced campground and drive around the east end of the park past the beach parking, concession building, and playground and then west along the edge of the shipping channel and around to the back row of the water only sites, all of which face the shipping channel.  As such it was a long drive to get to a site we could see from the one we just vacated.

We left the car at site #358 temporarily and Linda rode along in the bus.  I made the whole trip in 1st gear, to keep the RPMs up, and turned on the OTR A-C, both to cool the interior of the coach and to put more load on the engine and help get it up temperature.  I did not pull the tag axle up as we had walked the park/campground enough to know that I did not need to make any really tight turns.  When I was mostly into position on site #3 Linda got out and spotted the final position of the rear end.  These channel-side sites slope down towards the channel (facing north) and the back row sites get steeper the farther off the back off the site you go.  I wanted to pull forward just enough to get our tow bar clear of the access road behind the site and Linda accomplished that with an inch or two to spare.

I left the engine running and switched it to high idle to run the OTR air-conditioning.  While Linda went back to get our car I got out the step stool and awning pole and deployed all four awnings.  I then started the Genset to make sure it was going to run and produce electricity.  I also thought we might run the residential air-conditioners.  When Linda returned with our car she wanted to open up the coach so I shut off the OTR bus A-C, dropped the engine idle to low, and let it idle for a couple of minutes before shutting off the engine.  I left the genset on for the time being.

Both of our systems had been reacting to what we had eaten the last few days so we passed on lunch and just hung around our new site which was, in fact, very pleasant with a view of the water in the channel and the high ground of Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on the opposite bank.

Our driver side neighbors stopped to chat on their way to the beach and let us know that they had just spotted dolphins in the channel.  I walked over and caught a glimpse of several arching repeatedly out of the water but by the time Linda got there they had submerged and not resurfaced.  Given where we are parked we should have a good chance to see dolphins and view cruise ships coming and going from the Port.

Linda made a cold garbanzo bean salad for dinner last night.  After dinner I was trying to get us connected to the park Wi-Fi system but could not maintain the connection or get us logged in.  I tried using our Verizon Mi-Fi but could not get the WiFi Ranger to work with it.  I tried to reconfigure the Amped|Wireless router to work directly with the Mi-Fi but there were problems with that as well.  At one point my ASUS notebook computer decided that it could not detect any Wi-Fi networks even thought it had two of them sitting within a couple feet of it.  I got disgusted with the whole situation, shut everything off, and we went for a walk.

Linda waves to the Disney “Magic” cruise ship as it heads out to sea from Port Canaveral, FL. There is always a crowd along the channel to wave the cruise ships in and out.

We walked over to Pat and Vickie’s coach and Vickie joined us.  We headed to the beach where we enjoyed a very brisk breeze until lightning to the southwest signaled that it was time to return to the safety of our rigs or one of the park buildings.  We headed back past the playground area towards our coach and Vickie split off for the gate in the campground fence that provided the most direct access to her site.

Back at our site we closed up the coach against the humidity and coming storm.  I then started the auxiliary powerplant (genset) and turned on the air conditioners.  Not long after that it started to rain, lightly at first, but it eventually became very heavy for a while before finally moving offshore.

With the A-C’s running I was reminded that I need to change some of the AC circuits in the main panel.  The front and middle air-conditioners are on different legs of the AC power system, front on L1 and middle on L2.  That makes sense as we would normally want to run both of them at the same time to cool the front half of the bus (living, cooking, office space) when we are awake and using the bus.  The 3rd/bedroom A-C has to go on one of the two legs and either one could create load balancing issues.  Unfortunately, the middle A-C unit is not currently producing any cooling.

To make matters worse, the charger section of our Magnum 4024 inverter/charger also draws its power from L1.  Again, it had to go somewhere, but the current configuration tends to put too much load on L1 and not enough on L2.  Even though the genset is oversized for our electrical needs an imbalance between L1 and L2 is still a problem because it is set up as a 240 VAC unit with a 240 VAC voltage regulator.  Although it has an active neutral, allowing it to supply 120 VAC to both L1 and L2 (180 degrees out of phase) the regulator is only concerned with maintaining the 240 VAC between the two legs, not the 120 VAC between each leg to neutral.

If the loads on the two legs are not reasonably balanced, the 240 VAC will “drift” off center from neutral with the voltage on the high load leg dropping and the voltage on the low load leg rising.  That, in turn, can/does cause havoc with some of the devices onboard, especially the microwave oven, APC uninterruptible power supply that powers the Amped|Wireless router, and the APC line voltage stabilizer that powers the laser printer.

We were, however, able to watch TV and found Ken Burns’ JAZZ documentary on channel 24.1.  By 11 PM we needed to get to bed as we had to be up and ready to go by 7:45 AM tomorrow morning.  I turned the genset off around 11:30 PM and let the house electrical system switch to the inverter.  I tried to watch the end of JAZZ on the TV in the bedroom but the TV and antenna controller kept losing power.  That, in turn, caused the TV to shut off and the controller to reset to position 8.  My phone and iPad chargers, both of which were plugged into AC outlets, also kept cutting in and out.

I encountered this same issue when we were boondocking at John Palmer’s place in Mayo, Florida at the end of November 2015.  At that time I turned off the SEARCH WATTS feature thinking that it was causing the problem.  Apparently that was not the problem.  My best guess is that under very low load conditions the inverter is either:  a) not inverting at all, or b) producing a voltage and/or current that is not well regulated.  In either case, it would play havoc with our entertainment and communications electronics.

Rather than screw around with this anymore tonight I gave up , turned off the TV, unplugged the antenna controller, resolved to ignore the device chargers, figuring they would work when the refrigerator or air compressor ran, and tried to fall asleep.  I could have turned on the AC lights in the living room, or our small portable fan, to draw enough AC current to keep the inverter working, but that’s really contrary to the whole notion of minimizing your energy usage to only those things that are absolutely necessary when running on batteries.

2016/04/02 (S) Cape Canaveral Lighthouse Tour

I was awake at 6 AM and we were both up and dressed by 7 AM.  I did not make coffee or have breakfast and Linda just had a piece of bread as making toast would have required me to start the genset.  The batteries were at roughly 24.6 VDC (and showing 72% SOC) with no load being drawn by the inverter so there was no need to recharge them this morning.  We were due at Pat and Vickie’s coach at 8 AM so I gathered up my camera, holster, and extra batteries.  We left at 7:40 and took our time walking over to their site.

Pat and Vickie have seating for four in their Jeep Grand Cherokee and have been providing transportation for our group outings.  We left just after 8 AM for the short drive to the Exploration Tower at the west end of Port Canaveral.  We signed up for a tour of the Cape Canaveral Lighthouse that departed from the Tower at 8:30 AM and included admission to the Tower when we returned.

There were only twelve of us on the small tour bus plus a driver (Mike) and two tour guides.  The Cape Canaveral Lighthouse is located on the grounds of the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station (CCAFS).  One of the tour guides (Jim) had worked at the Station and was our main guide for information about the Station and the various launch sites we visited; and we visited a number of them.  One of the things we learned was that CCAFS is a Station rather than a Base because no one lives there.  All of the Air Force personnel working at CCAFS are from Patrick Air Force Base, which is located south of Cocoa Beach.  The U. S. Navy also has a presence here with facilities that service ICBM and attack submarines.

The Cape Canaveral Lighthouse located within the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL.

The Lighthouse had its own cadre of docents, and was very interesting to see and learn about, but only accounted for a little less than an hour of a 3-1/2 hour tour.  The other tour guide was Ron and he provided most of the information about Port Canaveral.  Just after exiting CCAFS we visited a small museum devoted to the history of the Station.  It was located next to the building that now houses the launch control facility for SpaceX, the commercial spaceflight venture of Elon Musk of PayPal.  There are other private/commercial companies operating at CCAFS besides SpaceX .  One of the largest is United Launch Alliance (ULA), an independent company that was formed by merging the space operations of Boeing (which absorbed McDonnell-Douglass years ago) and Lockheed-Martin.

All that remains of one of the launch pads at CCAFS, FL.

We did not really understand ahead of time what we were going to see and we were surprised by the dilapidated condition of the old launch sites.  All that remains at most of them are concrete and brick works.  Metal superstructures that were subject to rusting were long ago removed and control centers that were once stuffed full of equipment are now “abandoned in place” or used for storage.  It was like visiting an ancient historic site, which in fact it is; the first rocket launched from this site was a German V-2 in 1950 and the Mercury missions occurred in the early 1960’s over 50 years ago.

A continuation of the previous image, this is the command bunker and tunnel. CCAFS, FL.

Back at the Exploration Tower, which is owned and operated by the Canaveral Port Authority (CPA), we got wrist bands good for admission through closing time today.  The weather had been overcast all day and a check of the radar on our smartphones showed heavy rain moving our way.  Even though we were hungry we decided to experience the Tower before the rain moved in.

This is all that is left of what was once a heavily reinforced HVAC building at the launch pad. The superstructure in the distance is in active use by SpaceX and ULA. CCAFS, FL.

The Exploration Tower has seven floors plus additional structure at the top.  We took the elevator to the top floor which features an outdoor observation platform oriented to give a commanding view of Port Canaveral, CCAFS, and the John F. Kennedy Space Center to the north, as well as the Banana River to the west and the Atlantic Ocean to the east.  There are also views to the south of the cities of Cape Canaveral and Cocoa Beach.  We took the stairs down to each floor in turn.  Each floor has a theme with related exhibits and we stopped at each one.  The 3rd floor is a small theater that shows a 20 minute film about Port Canaveral and the surrounding area; past, present, and future.  The film starts on the hour and half hour so we caught the 1 PM show.  The second floor is a balcony that affords a view of art hanging above the 1st floor lobby and gift shop.

The Exploration Tower at Port Canaveral, FL. The top floor includes an outdoor observation deck.

Back on the 1st floor I bought two coffees while Linda and Vickie shopped for gifts.  Linda found a stuffed toy of a manatee for our grand-daughter Madeline.  When we finally got back to Jetty Park at 2 PM Linda made sandwiches for lunch and I washed off some grapes.  I checked the house battery bank voltage and it was still OK.  The temperature had cooled off under cloudy skies with a strong southerly breeze, so I did not need to run the air-conditioners.

I took a nap for an hour.  Not long after I got up we noticed activity in the shipping channel so I took the camera and we went out to see what was going on.  We set up two chairs in front of the bus to watch the action.  The blue tug boat was hanging around the entrance to the Trident Turning Basin, which we had not seen it do before.  The Brevard County Sheriff boat came out along with one of the harbor pilot boats.  A U. S. Coast Guard boat, with a large caliper machine gun on the bow that was manned, headed out the channel towards the ocean at high speed.  We thought perhaps we were going to get to see a submarine arrival, which are always unannounced, but the reason for all this activity turned out to be the Carnival Cruise Ship “Valor” coming into port.  It was delayed from its scheduled arrival by almost 12 hours but that worked to my advantage as the cloud cover had thinned and provided nice lighting on the bow of the ship as it traveled west into the channel.

A 180 degree panorama, from west through north to east, from the observation deck of the Exploration Tower at Port Canaveral, FL.

A little while later the Norwegian Cruise Line “Spirit” left its dock and headed for the Atlantic Ocean accompanied by the police, Coast Guard, and harbor pilot boats.  About 20 minutes behind the NCL Spirit, the Disney “Fantasy” left its dock and started its slow trip down the channel.  Vickie showed up before it got to our position and had her iPad with her.  As the boat came abreast of our position, Vickie spotted dolphins swimming just in front of the bow.

I got out another chair and we sat in front of the bus and chatted for a while.  Vickie eventually returned to her coach to fix dinner and we went inside.  I transferred today’s photos to my computer and selected two to process and send to Vickie.

A dolphin swims in front of one of the Disney cruise ships as it heads down the channel from Port Canaveral, FL. towards the sea.

For dinner Linda improvised a potato and broccoli dish with onion, garlic, and couscous.  It was light and very tasty.  After we were done eating I texted Vickie.  They were also done with dinner so we met her at the office and went for a walk.  Back at our coach Linda checked online and found a news story about the Carnival Valor.  The Valor was delayed due to a medical situation that required them to return to the Turks and Cacos.  According to CruiseTimeTables.com, passengers were being advised to embark starting at 9 PM and to be onboard by 11 PM, with departure shortly thereafter.

Back at our coach we watched some TV and waited up for the Carnival Valor to leave as the nighttime departures are rather something to see with the ships all lit up.  Linda waited until midnight and then turned in for the night.  I stayed up until 1:30 AM but it was still docked at the west end of the port so I gave up and went to bed.

2016/04/03 (N) Bon Voyage

I was waiting for the Carnival Valor to leave Port Canaveral last night but by 1:30 AM it was still at its terminal.  It was all lit up but going nowhere, so I finally went to bed.    By midnight the skies had begun to clear and the wind, which had been steady all day, became stronger and started shifting around to the northwest and becoming noticeably cooler.

The cruise ships are particularly magical at night and I had hoped to capture some images of them, having set my camera to SCeNe selection mode (SCN) and selected “Night.”  In spite of being up late I did not sleep soundly and was aware of headlights around 5 AM.  Someone had apparently driven over from the campground to watch ships, or perhaps driven into the park, which opens at 5 AM, for this purpose.  I then noticed a ship in the shipping lane heading for the mouth of the channel.  Around 5:30 AM another cruise ship came in.  I got up, put on my robe, and tried to photograph it from the cockpit of the bus.

The nighttime arrival of the Carnival “Victory” cruise ship at Port Canaveral, FL.

I got up to stay a little after 8 AM and started the genset so I could make coffee and heat water.  Linda got up shortly thereafter and prepared our breakfast cereal.  We could see cruise ships docked at the west end of Port Canaveral so Linda checked the CruiseTimeTables.com website, and found that there were four cruise ships scheduled to depart today; three at 4 PM (the Carnival Sunshine and Victory, and the Royal Caribbean Freedom of the Seas) and one at 4:30 PM (the Disney Magic).

The Magnum ME-ARC indicated the house battery bank was at 24.6 VDC and 69% SOC.  I turned on the genset and the charger started in Bulk Charging mode drawing 110A at 24VDC, or just over 2,600 Watts, on L1.  I turned on the Aqua-Hot electric heating element, which is on L2, to balance the load on the genset a bit.  When the battery charger had backed off a bit and switched to Absorption mode I turned on the block heater for the main engine, which is currently on the same leg (L1) as the charger.  Balanced loads lead to balanced voltages, but it is also better for the genset mechanically to run under a somewhat heavier load than a light one.

Around 10 AM I walked over to check site #357.  It was already vacant so I went to the office to confirm that we still had it reserved for tonight through Tuesday night.  We did, so I told the office clerk that I was going to go ahead and move, if I could get the engine started, and would then come in and register.  If I couldn’t get it started I would extend our stay on site #3 until we could get the problem resolved or get it towed.  The clerk was not particularly sympathetic, but then he was the one who would have to deal with an irate customer who could not have their reserved site, and the people who camp here have very particular preferences about their sites.  Fortunately, site #3 was open so we could have stayed there until we needed to dump our holding tanks.  We could minimize water usage by using the campground bathrooms, so we could have stretched our dry camping if needed.

Back at our rig we started preparing to move it.  I moved the car over near the pedestrian gate that is very close to site #357 and walked back to the coach.  Linda had secured the inside enough for the short, slow trip.  I checked the maintenance chargers for the chassis batteries and they indicated 100% charge levels.  I opened the air supply valve for the engine accessories, engaged the 12 and 24 volt chassis battery disconnect switches, pulled the wheel chocks, and put the entry step stool away.  I put the Level Low system in Drive mode, just in case that mattered, and turned the ignition key.  The bus motor cranked quickly and fired right up!  That was a relief.

The Centurion Battalion of the United States Navy Sea Cadet Corps had arrived at the picnic area sometime before 8 AM with a large contingent of cadets and their adult leaders/chaperones.  And they had arrived in a large number of cars that filled the available parking spaces just on the other side of the road that ran behind the back row of RV sites where we were parked.  There was still plenty of room to back out, but Linda positioned herself outside to keep an eye on the back end of the rig.

The motorhome on our passenger side was also ready to leave and backed out before I did.  I don’t think he would have presented an obstacle, but having him gone was one less thing to have to keep an eye on.  I pulled up the tag axle and then pulled forward to the right to position the coach at an angle to the road behind it.  I then backed up and cut the steer tires hard left to swing the nose around to the passenger side and guide the rear end cleanly into the road well clear of any other vehicles.  Linda climbed on board and I turned on the OTR A-C, partly for comfort and partly to put more load on the engine.

We made the 5 MPH trip around the east end of the park and campground back to the campground entrance on the south side where Linda got out to open the gate.  Once I was clear of the gate she got back onboard.  We wound our way through the campground, familiar now with the road system.  When I got to the 2nd to last turn I saw that the last turn was blocked by a pickup truck pulling a 5th wheel trailer out of its site so I continued straight ahead and went clockwise around Red Knot Circle.  By the time I got back to the same intersection the pickup truck and 5th wheel were out of the way and I was able to proceed to site #357.

Linda hopped out to act as spotter.  Using what I learned two years ago from Big Bill while getting parked at Suncoast Designers in Hudson, Florida I moved to the right edge of the road as the back-in site was on that side.  As I pulled past the site and the rear wheels were by the front of the site I cut the steer tires to the left, positioning the coach at an angle to the site, all the while avoiding trees, RVs, cars, and other obstacles.  I backed straight, keeping an eye on Linda in the driver side rear view mirror, and started swinging the nose to the driver side while keeping an eye on the car parked on the other side of the road.

As soon as I was clear of that car I swung the nose hard to the driver side.  We were well clear of the Sea Grape trees on the passenger side so I straightened the steer tires and pulled forward until I had a good view of the concrete pad on one side.  I backed in following Linda’s hand signals until I could see the pad on both sides, got the rig straight and centered, and backed up until Linda gave me the stop signal (arms crossed at the wrist above her head).  We ended up parking with the front tires just off the front edge of the concrete pad as the coach was close to level and we wanted to avoid lower branches at the rear of the site.  As it was, I still had to lower the front slightly, but at least the Level Low system worked this time.  I also had to adjust the rear on one side, which worked a lot better after I lowered the tag axle.

With the coach neatly tucked in to its site and sitting level Linda walked the short distance back to where the car was parked and drove it around to our site.  Once the car was parked I walked to the office and took care of the registration.  When I got back I tried to get our network up and running but encountered all sorts of problems.  I wasted most of the rest of the afternoon trying to resolve them, to no avail.

While we were camped on site #3 I had to reconfigure the Amped|Wireless router/range-extender to work directly with our Verizon Mi-Fi.  That configuration worked OK out there, but was not working here.  The Wi-Fi ranger was seeing a number of campground Wi-Fi signals with adequate to very good signal strength, but was having a very difficult time connecting to them.  When it did, the connection would drop after a very short time.  The Amped|Wireless router/range-extender was having an equally difficult time connecting to the Wi-Fi Ranger and staying connected when it did.  I tried connecting the Wi-Ranger to our Verizon Mi-Fi but that did seem to work either.  I also noticed that the cellular signal was not as strong as usual.  Linda commented that her phone was having trouble connecting.  I finally got disgusted with the whole thing and set it aside.  Sometimes the best solution is to “just walk away.”

There were four cruise ships starting down the shipping channel roughly on time and in the order specified and Vickie joined us for the ship parade.  We were out there waiting for them, camera at the ready, and by the time the last ship was headed out to sea I had shot about 200 images.  Vickie had already eaten, and we were not ready for dinner yet, so we walked the campground and park, including the pier.

It was chilly all day yesterday with a high temperature in the low 70’s and a steady breeze from the north that resulted in a hazardous conditions warning for the beach.  As the light faded it got colder and we returned to our motorhomes.

Dinner was a nice salad and Amy’s enchiladas.  Simple, easy, tasty.  It turned colder after sunset under clear skies and a stiff northerly breeze.  It was very refreshing, initially, but eventually the coach was a bit too cool so I closed the roof vents and Linda narrowed the window openings to just an inch.  We were a little tired, not particularly captivated by what was on TV, and had to be up earlier than usual in the morning, so we were in bed before 11 PM.

2016/04/04 (M) Farewell For Now

It turned chilly after sunset last night under clear skies and a stiff northerly breeze.  It was very refreshing, actually, but eventually the coach felt chilly and we closed it up, mostly, and were in bed a bit earlier than usual.

We were up at 7 AM this morning and got dressed right away.  I made coffee, which used up our supply of Sweet Seattle Dreams beans, and we headed over to site #303 at 7:30 to see Pat and Vickie off.  They have been here since mid-February and today was departure day.  The bus motor was already running when we got there and we just watched while they got ready to pull out.  We learned long ago not to “chat” with RVers during their final departure preparations.  They drove around by the office to hook up their car and we walked over to watch.  I took a couple of pictures with my phone and used the “dawn” setting for the first time.  Soon enough they were ready to go, so we said our final “farewells for now,” and, just like that, they drove off and were gone.  Assuming no mechanical or weather issues they will be home in northern Indiana Wednesday evening.

A group of five brown pelicans coming up the channel just above the water. Jetty Park at Port Canaveral, FL.

We always find that leaving an encampment after we have been there for an extended period of time has a strange feeling and we experienced that vicariously as Pat and Vickie drove away.  The strangeness, as best I can describe it, is a combination of a sense of loss—the giving up of a familiar place and the people there—and anticipation of the journey ahead, both positive and negative.  The anticipation is positive in the sense of the possibilities of new experiences that come with the adventure of the road while the negative anticipation stems from the potential for mechanical, weather, traffic, or health problems.

With Pat and Vickie out of sight we returned to our coach and had a light breakfast of toast and jam and finished our coffee.  Linda then worked on a grocery list while I tackled out networking problems.  I gave up in disgust around 10 AM and we drove to Cocoa Beach to do some grocery shopping.  We went to the Publix supermarket first and found most of what we needed there.  A quick stop at Sunseed Food CO-OP filled in our list with blueberries, coffee, and vegan mayonnaise.  I stopped at one of the Shell stations on the way back to J. P. and topped off the fuel in the car so we would not have to deal with that tomorrow morning.

Back at our coach we got the groceries unloaded and put away.  Linda then heated some leftovers for lunch and washed some grapes.  After lunch I put in a call to Chris Yust, our National General Insurance Agent, to ask her about the letter/form we received regarding Coordination of Medical benefits.  She called back a short time later and we discussed it.  She logged into her agent support system but there was no indication of the letter/form.  Normally she can see anything the insurance company has sent to her customers.  She confirmed that we really did need to send the form in with the requested documentation.

Linda had already photographed the fronts and backs of our MPSERS/BCBS cards.  When she tried to print them the printer was “offline”.  We had this same problem at the beginning of our winter travels and it turned out to be NETWORK related.  The fix back then was to use the Advanced IP Scanner to determine what IP address was assigned to the printer and then manually reconfigure the printer to that address.  That was under Windows 8.1.  Under Windows 10 the IP Scanner didn’t work the same way and the manual reconfiguration didn’t work either.  What is particularly puzzling and annoying is that the printer does not appear to be responding correctly when set as a DHCP client.  If it was, we would not be having a problem communicating with it.

I seem to have spent a lot of time this past week dealing with network and wireless communications malfunctions, so I did what I often do and we went for a walk at 2:30 PM.  We went out on the pier and were just starting back when someone spotted a manatee between the pier and the jetty swimming towards the ocean.  The water was clear and we got a good look at it for quite a while.  It was large and presumably a full-size adult.  They really are gentle giants and it was a thrill to see it.

We walked back to the office for coffee before returning to our rig.  As soon as we went in Scott Ward handed Linda a card.  She has not been in the office that much but I have, and have often interacted with Scott while checking on, or registering for, sites.  Still, I was impressed that he remembered my last name and made the connection to the card.  The card was from our younger grand-daughter, Madeline.  It was a ‘thank you’ card for Linda for all of the custom photo postcards she has created using the PhotoPostCard app and had printed and mailed to Madeline by the PhotoPostCard service out of San Diego, California.  Linda took a picture of the card, texted it to our son, and asked him to tell Madeline “thanks” in return.  He texted back a photo of Madeline looking at the most recent postcard, which was a photo of Linda by the channel with one of the Disney cruise ships heading out to sea.

The Royal Caribbean Enchantment of the Seas was due to sail at 3:45 PM followed closely by      the Disney Dream at 4 PM.  We walked over to the shipping channel at 3:40 PM and by the time we got there the Enchantment was starting to move away from its dock.  Something did not look right and then I realized we were looking at the stern of the ship.  The cruise ships usually dock facing the ocean, so it needed to turn around to get out of Port Canaveral.

One of the amazing things about these amazing machines is their ability to maneuver in close quarters.  When in port, they can independently push the bow and stern to either side, which means they can move sideways or turn the ship around its center (or any other point).  In this case they pushed the stern out from the dock on the south side of the channel and into the opening of the middle turning basin on the north side of the channel opposite the dock.  They then backed it up slightly into the turning basin, brought the bow around into the channel, pushed the stern out into the channel, and then started moving forward down the channel towards the ocean.  It was quite a skillful maneuver and the first time we have seen this in the two weeks we have been here.

Not long after the Enchantment cleared the Jetty and turned southeast to stay in the channel, the Disney Dream started moving slowly forward and away from its dock.  The Disney terminal/dock is in an alcove (basin) on the north side of the west end of the Port so it has to turn into the straight portion of the channel.  Of all the cruise ships we have seen come and go the Disney ships appear to be in the best condition, not that any of them look bad.

We returned to our coach and I transferred photos to my computer from the camera and from my cell phone while Linda started preparing dinner.  Dinner consisted of a kale salad followed by a brown rice and kale dish with sautéed carrots, onions, and garlic.  Linda has not had any wine in a couple of weeks because of the medications she’s been taking, but I had a glass of the Arbor Mist Raspberry.  I find “flavored” wines a questionable choice, although I like Sangria and hot mulled or spiced wine.

We went for a walk after dinner that included some time on the beach.  The park and beach were a beehive of activity yesterday but things were quiet all day today and there were only a handful of people on the beach this evening.  Both conditions are nice, in their own way.  There was, however, some activity in the Trident submarine turning basin today.  The big crane was moving and a Coast Guard cutter was in and out of the basin.  An attack helicopter from Patrick AFB also made repeated passes over the area and up/down the beach.  Our friends told us that when things start getting active around the basin it usually means a submarine is coming in but that did not happen while we were watching.

Back at our coach we turned on the TV but all of the CBS programs were repeats because the NCAA Basketball final game was on cable.  I reconfigured the Amped|Wireless router to work directly with our Verizon Mi-Fi and was able to get my computer connected to the Internet and to our NAS, which is critical for backing up photos and documents.  I did not, however, mess around further with the printer.  My plan is to move it back into my office at home and leave it there.  I will find a newer one, with better networking functionality, to put in the bus.

We planned to be on the road in the morning between 8 and 8:30 AM so we went to bed before 11 PM.  Linda fell asleep before NCIS-LA ended but I watched the channel 6 news/weather before turning out the lights.  The Cleveland Indians baseball home opener was postponed because of snow on the field and the TV weatherman reported that the average last date for snow in Cleveland is April 18, and for Detroit, April 22.  In spite of a mild winter and early spring, I knew there was a reason we were not in a hurry to return home.  The low at our house was forecast to be 18 degrees F overnight.

2016/04/05 (M) Celebration

We were up at 7 AM, showered, and got dressed.  We tended to our cats and prepared the motorcoach for them to be comfortable while we were away for part of the day.  We each had a banana, and a little orange juice to wash down our vitamins, but did not have a full breakfast or our usual morning coffee.  We gathered up all of the things Linda needed for her doctor’s appointment and were in the car and on our way at 8:10 AM.

Our destination was the office of Dr. Michael Seidman in Celebration, Florida, a trip of 60 to 65 miles from Jetty Park that would take about as many minutes.  Most of the route was Toll Road (FL-528 and FL-417) and we did not have to slow down for the toll booths because we have a Florida SunPass transponder that we can move between the bus and the car.  We put the address of the clinic, which is attached to Florida Hospital, into the GPS.  It accepted Celebration as the city, but the routing showed the destination as Kissimmee.  I didn’t care what it called the place as long as it got us to the correct location.

We left earlier than needed in order to arrive earlier than required and allow for traffic and navigational contingencies.  Less than a mile from the medical center we spotted a Panera Bread Company store and stopped to have bagels and coffee.  While we were there we made use of the free Wi-Fi to update apps on our iPads and smartphones.  We left at 10:15 and finished the short trip to the Florida Hospital complex.  We found a parking spot, found the clinic building, and found the suite for the Head & Neck Surgery Center of Florida (H&NSCF).  Linda had already completed much of the required new patient paperwork so we were there with time to spare.

Sheila, one of the office assistants, got Linda checked in and wanted to know if we had brought copies of her records from Henry Ford Health System, where Dr. Seidman worked for 30 years and treated Linda for the last 20 of those.  I had e-mailed Sheila the day after she asked me to get those records to let her know that HFHS would not send them to another hospital or clinic at Linda’s request and that the H&NSCF would have to request them.  Sheila said she did not receive that e-mail, even though I replied to one she sent Linda.  Oh well, there was nothing to be done at that point.

It was a great relief to Linda to be able to get in to see Dr. Seidman.  Dr. S and his PA, Katherine, carefully went over the history of Linda’s illness and treatment of the last three weeks.  He indicated that the treatment was what he would have prescribed, which was comforting to know.  His routine ENT examination did not reveal any indication of infection or fluid in her “good” (right) ear, which was also good to know.  He really wanted to compare the recent audiological results with her last tests from HFHS so he made a call to someone at the HFHS ENT clinic and was able to get them to fax the test results.  He chaired the ENT department for much of his time at Henry Ford, and that was apparently still worth something with former colleagues.

Dr. S also inserted a scope through Linda’s right nostril and into her throat to exam the areas that cannot be seen any other way.  The scope is a thin, flexible cable with a camera and LED light source at the tip.  The image is fed to a monitor, where I got to see it in real time, but was also recorded so Linda got to see it afterwards.  Her vocal cords did not close completely and were slightly bowed, which Dr. S thought probably accounted for her weak, slightly horse, voice but there was no sign of infection or other pathology, such as tumors.  He noticed that the Eustachian tube opening was “bubbling” which he thought was a good sign.  He also examined the left nostril and did not see anything unusual there either.

All of that was good news, of course, but we were both a bit let down that there wasn’t any additional treatment he could provide at this time.  Direct injection of steroids into the middle ear was still a possibility but he wanted Linda to wait at least four weeks to see if she improved on her own before going down that path.  Equally frustrating was that her hearing, while marginal, was too good for a cochlear implant.  Not that she is eager to have one of those, of course, what she wants is the hearing in her right ear restored to what it was before she got sick a month ago.

Our friend, Mara, was moving her motorhome today from Clermont to Winter Haven and her friend, Michael, was driving to Orlando International Airport to drop off a rental car and fly back to Phoenix, Arizona.  They had hoped to do all of that by way of Celebration and have lunch, with or without us, at Ari, a Japanese sushi restaurant.  We had indicated that it was very doubtful we would make it to lunch, given the timing of Linda’s appointment, but called Mara when we got back to our car to update her.  It turned out that when she got ready to leave her motorhome slideout would not slide in.  (I think that’s why they are called slide “outs.”)  Michael returned home as planned while Mara arranged for a technician to fix her non-sliding slideout.

We needed to fax a few documents to National General Insurance Company, so we went in search of a Staples with a copy center.  Having taken care of that we wanted to have lunch before heading back to Cape Canaveral so as not to be eating dinner too late in the day.  We found another Panera near FL-417 and Orange Blossom Trail and ate there.  The kale-romaine-couscous-almond salad was excellent and the black bean soup was as good as usual.  Well fed, we got on the FL-417 Toll Road and headed back towards the FL-528 Toll Road, which we took back to Cape Canaveral.

We were back at Jetty Park before 2:30 PM and just relaxed for a while.  Around 4 PM we went outside to take care of a few things in preparation for our departure tomorrow.  I got out the waste drain hoses and connected two of them together to reach from the utility bay connection to the sewer connection, which was inconveniently located directly behind the RV pad.  We drained the waste tanks, rinsed out the hoses, and returned everything to their storage tub.  Using the 3-step stool, I retracted the two awnings on the driver side, which I had previously deployed to shade the Windows from the mid-afternoon sun.

We then emptied out the back of the car so I could add air to the temporary spare, which gave us a low pressure alarm on the drive from Webster to Cape Canaveral.  I had turned on the TireTraker TPMS earlier and most of the readings looked OK, but as long as I had the portable air compressor, hose, air chuck, and pressure gauge out I checked the front right (curb, PS) tire as a check on the TPMS. The tire gauge pressure was several pounds lower than the TPMS indicated pressure and was fairly close to where I wanted it so I left it alone.

Our destination tomorrow was Williston Crossings RV Resort in Williston, Florida, a trip of about 140 miles.  We had about a half tank of fresh water so I did not get out the softener and add any.  Somewhere in the middle of all this work we chatted with several neighbors, but eventually we got the car and bus repacked, including the patio mat and the two bag chairs.  At that point we only had the entry mat, entry stool, and power cord to deal with and the outside would be ready for travel.

Before dinner we went for a walk out by the shipping channel, the pier, and the beach.  There were people out and about but the park did not feel crowded and was quiet and calm, unlike the festive energy of the weekend with its day visitors, picnickers, and family campers with younger children.  It’s as if J. P. has moods, and one has to spend enough time here and experience them to begin to get a sense of the place.  We could understand why Pat and Vickie like to come here every year, even if that is not what we would choose to do.

I could not recall what Linda made for dinner because I am trying to finish this post a week later.  What I do recall is that the Norwegian Breakaway was scheduled to set sail at 9 PM, well after sunset.  It had been a pleasantly cool day with clear skies but turned chilly with the setting of the sun and a noticeable breeze, especially outside the campground by the water.  Linda was tired and a little chilled and chose not to walk out and watch the ship leave.  At 8:45 PM I got my camera, walked over to the channel, and positioned myself by the “Minimum Wake” sign.  I had a good view of the Port to the west and could lean on one of the posts for support if needed.  I put my camera in SCN (scene selection) mode, selected the “Night” setting, and waited.

I had not noticed that the ship was docked with its stern facing the ocean until it started to move.  Its position at the dock meant it would have to do a 180 degree turn before moving down the channel and into the ocean.  And that meant it was going to take longer to exit the port and give me more opportunity to photograph it.

The Norwegian Cruise Lines “Breakaway” doing a 180 degree maneuver in the turning basin. Port Canaveral, FL.

The cruise ships are always brightly illuminated when coming and going in the dark and are quite pretty to see as they glide almost silently by.  They are also challenging to photograph as they are often very high contrast (high dynamic range) subjects, especially at night.  Ideally I would shoot multiple bracket exposures and combine them using HDR software, but I would have to get the camera on a tripod and even then the exposures would be just long enough that the ship would change position slightly between frames.  I did the best I could with single frame, hand-held exposures braced against the sign post.  By the time the Breakaway was in open water I was getting chilled and headed back to the warmth of our bus.  I transferred the images to my computer and took a quick look at them before settling in to watch a few minutes of TV and then go to bed.

 

2016/03/31 (R) Historic Cocoa Village

2016/03/31 (R) Historic Cocoa Village

I got up briefly at 6:30 AM to close the roof vents as a stray rain shower drifted over Jetty Park (JP).  I got up again around 7 to put some fresh food in the cats’ bowls so they would stop trying to get us up and then went back to bed.  Linda was up around 7:30 AM to take her last steroid pill and I finally got up to stay at 8:30.  I walked over to the office around 9:15 but it was closed until noon for store inventory.  I knew that from yesterday but had forgotten.  I walked back to our coach and brewed a pot of Ethiopian Yirgacheffe half-caffe coffee, which was much better than the office coffee anyway.

It was sunny but humid this morning and by 10 AM it was up into the 80’s in the coach so we closed up and turned on the air-conditioners.  Linda has been doing accounting work for the bakery but was waiting on a document from the controller so she walked over to use the shower facilities.  I worked on filling in yesterday’s blog post until she returned and then I walked over to get my shower.  Back at the coach I exchanged text messages and phone calls with Vickie regarding plans for today while Linda exchanged text messages with Mara regarding a possible meetup next week.

A small part of downtown Historic Cocoa Village, Florida.

Pat and Vickie picked us up at noon and drove to Historic Cocoa Village on the mainland.  It was all boutique shopping and restaurants but still quaint and interesting enough.  Linda located The Garden of Eden Cafe and Bakery on Happy Cow but it was no longer in business and we ended up driving back to a Steak ‘n Shake on Merritt Island for lunch.  It was right on the 520 Causeway so it was very convenient.  Linda, Vickie, and I had garden salads and Pat had a hamburger.  I also ordered onion rings.  The salads were good but the onion rings were some of the worst I’ve ever had.  They were very greasy which was probably due to the fry oil not being hot enough.

We stopped at the Ron Jon Surf Shop (RJSS) in Cocoa Beach on the way back.  In the six years that Pat and Vickie have been coming to JP they had never visited the RJSS.  Linda wandered away from the group so I followed her, after which we could not find Pat and Vickie.  It turned out that they also got separated.  The store is big, with two floors, but not THAT big.  It is, however, crammed full of merchandise and the layout made it hard to see most of the store from any given vantage point.  It was also packed with people, which further obscured my view, but through text messages and phone calls we eventually all ended up in the same place and finally drove back to JPCG.

A little piece of Florida charm in Historic Cocoa Village, Florida.

It turned out to be a very warm, humid, partly cloudy day and we were glad we had closed up our coaches and turned on the air-conditioners before we left.  Jasper and Juniper were glad too, and also glad to see us.  I walked over to the office to see if any full hookup sites had opened up, but they had not.  There wasn’t anyone else in the lounge area so I switched the TV to The Weather Channel to get a sense of the national and local weather situation.  A line of strong to severe storms was draped from Michigan’s thumb all the way to the Gulf of Mexico at the Texas/Louisiana border.  It was moving east across the continent with numerous severe thunderstorm watches and warnings, and a few tornado watches and warnings, ahead of it.  The northern tip looked like it would pass through our hometown but be below severe intensity.

Back at the coach Linda had resumed working on accounting for the bakery.  I checked e-mail, replied to one from Gary at BCM, and then logged into RVillage to deal with another one.  Scott and Tami had requested to join the CCO group, which is private, so I had to approve their request.   I also updated our checkout date at JP to Wednesday, April 6.  I updated the Excel spreadsheet that I use to track water/tank/softener usage and was just finishing up when I spotted the Carnival Victory cruise ship coming down the shipping channel from its dock at Port Canaveral.  I grabbed the camera and hurried over while Linda locked the bus and followed me.

It was hazy due to the heat and humidity but I clicked off a few photos anyway.  We knew that one of the Disney cruise ships would also be setting sail shortly so we stuck around the channel and walked down towards the pier looking for a better/different vantage point.  These ships always leave between 5 and 5:30 PM heading east down the channel so it is not an ideal time of day to photograph them as we are looking northwest if we want to see the bow.  Once they pass us we are looking northeast with the sun over our left shoulder so the lighting is much better.  I might do better driving up to the Exploration Tower area of the Port and trying to photograph the Disney ships as the leave the dock.  There’s a lot more ‘stuff’ up there (boats buildings, cranes, etc.) to provide foreground and framing, but it might also just obscure the view.  I won’t know which it is unless I investigate it, which I probably will not do on this visit.

At 5:30 PM I spotted the Disney Magic coming out of its terminal basin into the main channel.  It took a while to get into position for the photographs I wanted to take.  After it cleared the shoreline and another set of buoys it turned southeast.  Linda checked the schedule latter and found out it was headed for the Bahamas on a three night cruise.  She also learned that the Magic and the Dream are the only Disney Cruise Line ships that sail from Port Canaveral, which explained why we saw them as often as we did.

A Little Blue Heron by the jetty and shipping channel. Jetty Park, Cape Canaveral, FL.

We headed back up the channel towards the west and stopped when I spotted the dorsal fin of a dolphin breaking the surface of the water by the entrance to the submarine turning basin.  We saw it three or four times as it headed back towards the ocean but then it disappeared.  While we were standing there chatting with a local resident a Little Blue Heron flew over and landed about five feet away from me.  It was looking for a handout, which we did not have, but I was able to walk around it and photograph it from different directions for a few minutes before it flew off in search of better prospects.

Back at our coach I worked on this post while Linda started preparing dinner.  She decided to make angel hair pasta with garlic, mushrooms, onions, and sun-dried tomatoes.  It’s a favorite “go to” meal that is relatively quick and easy to prepare but absolutely delicious.  Because of our late lunch, eaten between 2 and 3 PM, we did not have dinner until 7:30 PM.

After dinner we turned on the TV and put on our usual Thursday evening comedy programs.  I needed to proofread and edit a short article that someone else wrote for BCM but did not feel like doing it this evening.  I also needed to off-load today’s photos from my camera to my computer and Vickie wanted a picture of the manatees from the Merritt Island NWR, but I deferred all of that to tomorrow.  I did, however, fill in today’s activities in my blog post.  That is something I can comfortably do on my iPad while watching TV.

Around 9 PM it was still 76 degrees F outside but we turned off the air-conditioners and opened up the coach anyway.  The temperature was forecast to only drop to about 70 but we figured we would be comfortable enough, preferring fresh air and roof vent fan noise to recirculated air and the roar of the air-conditioner evaporator fans.

Around 10 PM Linda started the update of her iPad to iOS 9.3.  That took over an hour and when it finally rebooted her tablet she went to bed.  I watched channel 6.1 (CBS) long enough to see the weather forecast and then switched to 24.1 (PBS) to watch Charlie Rose.  At midnight I tuned in The Late Show with Stephen Colbert for a few minutes and then went to bed and fell asleep.

 

2016/03/29-30 (T-W) Merritt-Island Grills Lionfish

2016/03/29 (T) Merritt Island NWR

Our day had four distinct parts.  Part one was our usual early morning routine which involved coffee, orange juice, homemade granola with fresh blueberries, and iPads.  Part 2 involved a trip to the office by me around 10:30 AM to pay the balance (2 nights) of our next three nights at Jetty Park.  The reason for this was that we had to move our bus from site #352 to site #358 at noon.

The current occupants of site #358 were packing up as I left for the office and pulled out by a little after 11 AM.  We shook out the patio and entry mats and laid them back on the ground.  We then removed all of the window/windshield covers and laid them on the patio mat.  Once they were stacked Linda rolled them up and put them away in the front bay.  While she did that I disconnected the fresh water connections from the supply faucet and coach inlet.  I then dumped the back water and gray water waste tanks.

Site #358 is a full hookup site but the waste drain is on the “wrong” (passenger) side of the coach at the back edge of the concrete pad.  In that location it would be almost impossible to use, but that would not be a problem as long as I dumped the tanks before we moved.  We can go 9 to 10 days before we have to dump but after today’s move we will be moving again in three days and again three days after that.  The next move is to a water only site (#3) by the shipping channel but we can stop at the dump station on the way if needed.  The last move we will be to site #303 with a sewer connection in the correct location.  What this comes down to is that waste management is not going to be a problem as long as the waste tanks are empty before we leave site #352 today.

Site #358 is directly behind site #352 so rather than load everything into the bays, I carried the water softener, fresh water filter, and hoses to the new site and then transferred the waste drain hose and support accordion while Linda carried the patio and entry mats and the entry step stool to the new site.  Linda also tidied up the interior enough that I could move the coach without anything getting broken.

At this point we were basically ready to move.  I shut off the air-conditioners and electric heating element for the Aqua-Hot, shut the main AC circuit breaker in the utility bay, and disconnected the shorepower cord.  I coiled the cord and carried it to the new site.  I then turned on the air valve for the engine accessories, connected the chassis batteries, and started the engine.

It took a couple of minutes for the chassis to air up during which time I lifted and dropped the tag axle a couple of times because I wasn’t sure it was responding to the control lever.  The people next door to us on the left were away so their pickup truck wasn’t there to impede our departure.  Linda moved a bicycle on their site just enough to make sure it was also out of my way.   The site was much easier to get out of than it was to get into, in part because there was a pickup truck parked next door when I backed in.

I slowly drove clockwise around Red Knot Circle to enter the northern branch of the loop going the correct direction (east) to be able to back into site #358.  There were no obstructions to impede backing into the site and I was able to maneuver the coach using the side mirrors and rear view camera while Linda spotted the rear end.  With no obstacles at the rear of the concrete pad we were able to center the tires side-to-side with a few inches to spare and front-to-rear with about a foot to spare fore and aft.  I dropped the tag axle and checked the level of the kitchen counter.  It looked good so I let the system air up until the air-dryer purged and then shut the engine off.

The back end of the coach was only about 40 feet from where it was 15 minutes earlier but we had to go through the whole departure/arrival process.  I disconnected the chassis batteries, closed the engine accessories air valve, connected the shorepower cord, and put AC power to the coach.  I then stored the sewer hose as we would not be needing it right away, and put the water softener in the front bay temporarily.  While I did that, Linda spread out the patio and entrance mats and set up the entrance step stool.  Pat and I were sitting at the picnic table enjoying the shade and the breeze when Vickie called to see if we were ready to go on our afternoon outing.  Pat walked back to their site to get the car (and Vickie) and so began Part 3 of our day.

Linda packed a light picnic lunch and I grabbed my small camera bag.  Pat and Vickie arrived at our site a few minutes later, picked us up, and we headed out.  Our destination was the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge just north of the John F. Kennedy Space Center.  The route was FL-A1A/FL-528 west to US-1 north to Titusville and then east on 403 to the NWR Visitor Center.

Linda needed to eat before she could take her next steroid pill so our first order of business was lunch on one of the picnic tables.  Once we had eaten we checked out the displays inside and then walked the boardwalk.  Vickie had her Senior Access pass and got a holder to hang it from the rearview mirror before we headed deeper into the refuge.

There is a channel that connects the Mosquito Lagoon to the Indian River Lagoon.  The channel is part of the Intercostal Waterway and is crossed by a drawbridge on Route 3.  The north bank of the channel east of the bridge is a regular hangout for West Indian Manatees and the refuge has a parking lot and viewing platform to safely accommodate visitors.  Pat and Vickie had been here before and not always seen manatees but today was our lucky day.

West Indian Manatees in the channel that connects Indian River Lagoon and Mosquito Lagoon. Merritt Island NWR, Florida.  The channel is part of the Intercoastal Waterway.

As best we could estimate there were at least a dozen manatees feeding and frolicking along the bank, including at least two juveniles.  We spent 30 minutes there, maybe longer, during which time I took about 50 photos.  The weather was heavily overcast and the water was a little murky, neither of which was ideal for photography.  The added challenge was that manatees usually only bring a small amount of their body out of the water at any one time, typically just their nostrils or tail and only for a short time.  The juveniles, however, seemed to be trying to climb onto the backs of what we presumed were their mothers and occasionally were sufficiently above the surface to have a good look at them.  Even so, getting a good photo was going be a matter of timing (anticipation) and luck, especially given the limitations on where I could position myself.

We saw a Wild Boar as we pulled out.  We still had plenty of hours of daylight and decided to drive the Wildlife Loop Road.  We saw lots of birds, a couple of alligators, and a Flamingo on the wing.  We then headed back to Titusville where we stopped at a CVS Pharmacy so Linda could restock her OTC medications.  Before we got out of Titusville the weather moved in with thunder and lightning.  We saw a pair of Flamingos on the wing on the way back to Jetty Park.

We got back to Jetty Park about 5 PM where Part 4 of our day was a quiet evening at home.  In spite of somewhat elevated humidity, and the possibility of rain in the forecast, we turned off the air-conditioners and opened the windows and roof vents/fans.  Linda was tired and did not want to go for a walk but felt well enough to make nice salads and heat some Amy’s Pad Thai for dinner.  We watched NCIS and NCISLA, both of which were reruns, and the James Corden “Car Pool Karaoke” special that was on instead of Limitless.  We are rarely up late enough to watch The Late Late Show but I had to admit that Corden is a very funny guy; hyperactive crazy, but very funny.  Since Linda could not hear the singing or banter, she did not really experience what was going on.

Once again Linda tried sleeping in bed but lying down was still causing increased pressure in her ears so she moved to the makeshift bed using the two facing captain’s chairs in the living room.  I watched the news/weather on the Orlando CBS affiliate and then watched part of The Late Show with Stephen Colbert before going to sleep at midnight.

2016/03/30 (T) GRILLS Lionfish

We had some light rain last evening that forced me to close the roof vents.  It appeared to be done by bedtime so I opened the vent in the bathroom and set the fan to exhaust on speed 2.  By the time we both got up this morning I did not feel like making coffee so we got dressed and walked to the office with our coffee mugs.  We watched the Bloomberg financial channel and The Weather Channel on cable/satellite TV in the lounge area and then checked to see if any full hookup sites had opened up for the weekend.  They had not, so we walked back to our rig.

I finished up yesterday’s blog post and then checked with Vickie about activities for today.  The John F. Kennedy Space Center is now an expensive “entertainment experience” run by a private company.  After checking our options we decided to pass.  The normal senior adult price for a 1-day pass is $46, $75 for a multi-day pass.  Two optional extended tours were $25 per adult per tour, so this would be a $100 to $125 per person, and probably require at least two days to do, if we wanted the full experience.  CocoaBeach4Less.com has a special for the general admission of two adults for $19.99 total.  The catch?  Sitting through a 1-hour presentation on the travel agency’s extensive services.  No obligation to buy, of course, but “no thanks” just the same.  We got to visit the Space Center as USAF ROTC cadets when it was in active use for the space shuttle program in the late 1970’s, so visiting it as an expensive entertainment experience did not hold much interest for us.

Vickie checked on the Exploration Tower and Cape Canaveral Lighthouse Tour.  It was $27 per person and only operated on Fridays and Saturdays.  (The Tower is open 7 days a week.)  We could not go on Friday because we have to move the bus again (our third Jetty Park Shuffle since we arrived on March 21st).  The tour was tentative for Saturday based on insufficient bookings.  Vickie explained that there would be four of us and was asked to call back at noon.  She did, and the tour was a ‘go’ so they signed up and then I called and signed us up.  They needed our full names, driver’s license numbers, and dates of birth as the historic Cape Canaveral Lighthouse is in the USAF Cape Canaveral Air Force Station which is restricted access property that is not open to the public.

I have had a really nice Logitech UltraThin Bluetooth Touch Mouse for a while and it has worked well.  It started acting up yesterday, which is to say it quit responding even though Windows 10 indicated it was connected.  I restarted my computer and recharged the mouse even though I did not think it needed it and it worked again until today, when it quit responding again.  I was not in the humor to waste time with it, and Linda needed some additional medications, so I drove to Cocoa Beach.  My first stop was the CVS Pharmacy and my second stop was at Radio Shack, both very conveniently on the right hand (west) side of N. Atlantic Avenue when heading south.  When I returned I moved my computer to the portable dining table so Linda could use the desk.  She worked on accounting for the bakery while I started editing blog posts from early January 2016.

We checked with Vickie around 1 PM but they were having lunch so we went for a long walk to the beach and pier without her.  Back at our coach Linda made nice salads for lunch, which we ate around 2 PM.  I then took a nap while she researched restaurant possibilities for dinner tonight.  She suggested GRILLS on the shipping channel and Vickie agreed to a 6 PM dinnertime.

When I got up Linda handed me a Livingston County Court Jury Summons for April 4 through 15.  Our daughter was checking our mail, saw it, scanned it, and e-mailed it to us.  That was obviously not going to work, so I called the phone number in the letter and got rescheduled to the last two weeks of June.  It was just dumb luck that the timing worked out as our children only check our mail every other week.

GRILLS is located towards the west end of the shipping channel on the south side near the Exploration Tower, deep sea fishing charters marina, and a number of other restaurants, bars, and shopping.  There were a lot of cars and people in the area and when we checked in with the hostess we were told it would be 45 minutes to an hour wait for a table.  Ugh.  Waiting for a table at a restaurant is not on my “favorite things to do” list.

We walked around a bit and browsed the shop across the street where we looked at Lion Fish in an aquarium and learned about them.  They are a highly invasive species with no natural predators in this part of the world.  Their spines are extremely venomous but their meat is not.  It is apparently incredibly tender and delicious and GRILLS features it on their menu.  It only took 30 minutes to get a table and the time passed quickly enough as we had something to occupy us.  The restaurant was crowded and noisy with spring break vacationers but Linda did OK.  She and I had black bean ‘burgers’ with salsa, Pat had a ‘real’ hamburger, and Vickie had fish tacos.  We walked down to the Weyland Gallery after dinner but it was closed.  We were all very full and returned to Jetty Park.  It was 8 PM when we got back to our rig.  For whatever reason we were picking up a lot more OTA TV stations tonight which gave us two PBS affiliate options.

As I wrote in yesterday’s post, we vacated site #352 just before noon and moved to site #358.  A smaller class C motorhome occupied site #352 last night but left this morning.  As of 5 PM site #352 was still unoccupied, so the park staff could have left us there and put the class C on site #358 last night.  As nice as Jetty Park is, and it is a nice place with generally friendly and helpful staff, it is owned and operated by the Canaveral Port Authority.  The CPA is a public/government entity and one gets the sense that the policies and procedures here have been developed more for the convenience of the operators than the comfort and convenience of the paying guests.  To be fair, we were probably still going to have to move before Friday, but if the park had a 1-night reservation for Tuesday, nothing for Wednesday, and a 1-night reservation for Thursday they could have left us on #352 until Friday when we move to site #3.

I had an iOS update available for my iPad2 and waited until 10 PM to initiate it using the Jetty Park Wi-Fi.  It took 30 – 45 minutes to download and install.  Once my tablet restarted I immediately had 10 app updates. The smallest was 27 MB and all the others were over 50 MB with the largest being 103 MB.  I did the updates one-at-a-time while I watched the news and The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.  Linda went to bed at 11 PM and I finally climbed in at 1 AM after starting the last update.  Being on the road with a limited cellular data plan is not like being at home with a DSL connection so we do what we have to do to manage our data usage.

 

2016/03/21-23 (M-W) Webster Cape-Canaveral Jetty-Park Recovery

2016/03/21 (M) Webster to Cape Canaveral

I was up sometime before 8 AM after a less than completely restful night’s sleep.  Yesterday was our last full day at Florida Grande Motor Coach Resort (FGMCR) in Webster, Florida and today was departure day.  I am always a bit anxious when the time comes to move the bus after sitting for a while, and even though we have only been here for two weeks it has been a lovely, comfortable place to base camp.  Although we only had about 100 miles to travel today, I was more anxious than usual because of a combination of factors.

At the top of the list was the tag axle brake issue.  While I was hopeful that Joe had taken care of it, at least for now, we would not know for sure until we moved the bus.  Another big factor was that Linda has been very ill for the last few days and was still not well this morning.  That meant I would have to do more of the work of preparing the bus for travel.  I didn’t mind, of course, I just did not want to overlook something that was normally part of her portion of the departure routine.  The third, forth, and fifth factors were:  3) using our new SunPass transponder for the first time; 4) taking the bus on the Florida Turnpike and Toll Road system for the first time, and; 5) traveling a route that came into the Orlando area from the northwest and swung around the southern edge before heading straight east towards the Atlantic ocean.  The sixth and last factor was our destination, which was not a motorcoach resort with wide, straight roads and big sites, but rather a county park with narrow, twisty roads, closer sites, and lots of trees.  Charming, but not necessarily “big rig” friendly.  I knew, because I had visited Pat and Vickie Lintner here two years ago.

We had a reservation at Jetty Park Campground on Cape Canaveral where our GLCC friends, Pat and Vickie Lintner, have been since mid-February.  We had reservations starting today and running through the 28th, with departure on the 29th unless we decide to extend our stay and there was a site available.  Check-in time was 2 PM and our mapping app indicated 104 miles and a little over two hours for our preferred route.  Based on that we wanted to pull out of FGMCR sometime between 11 AM and noon.  That gave us most of the morning to prepare the bus for travel, and that was comfortable even with Linda being ill and not able to do as much as usual.

I did not have coffee this morning—I never do on travel days—and we just had a couple of pieces of toast early for breakfast.  In spite of not feeling well Linda got most of the inside of the bus ready to travel and even swept the floor.  I packed up our computers and iPads and then prepared the outside stuff.

The biggest, most time consuming job, and my least favorite, is checking and adjusting tire pressures.  I had plugged in the TireTrakker TPMS repeater last night and I turned on the receiver/monitor this morning after letting it recharge overnight.  It eventually acquired temperatures and pressures from all 13 tires.  The temperatures were all in the 60’s so I knew the pressure readings were current rather than left over from our previous trip.  The sensors are not accurate enough, however (in my opinion), so I checked all of the tires with my tire gauge except the mini-spare in the car.  The passenger side steer tire on the bus needed an extra 2 PSI, but all four tires on the car were low and needed to be increased.  So did the car spare, but I was not about to empty out the back of the car to get to it.  I should have taken care of this sometime during the last two weeks as the pressure was low enough to keep triggering an alarm on the monitor, and was not at the correct pressure for use should we need it.

By 10:30 AM we were ready to go except for disconnecting the shorepower and hooking up the car.  I was going to reposition the coach so we could hookup the car at the site and then exit to the left but a landscaping crew showed up, parked along the other side of the road to our left, and unhooked their trailer.  I was not going to ask them to move, and I doubt that they would have even if I did.  It was easier to just exit to the right anyway and hook up the car at the staging area by the clubhouse where we unhooked when we came in, so that’s what we decided to do.

At 11:20 AM I disconnected the shorepower and stowed the cord.  Chassis batteries ON; engine accessory air supply ON; inverter operating; main engine start; no problem.  I let the suspension and brakes air up on low idle as Joe had suggested and then pulled up the tag axle.  Linda moved the car to the empty pad across the street to the right and watched as I pulled out.  Once I cleared the turn I put the tag axle back down and Linda followed me counterclockwise around the front “pond” to the staging area where I shut off the engine and she pulled the car up behind the bus.  Many (most) RV parks have “no engine idle” rules.  There isn’t one posted here, and the staging area is far enough from the clubhouse and the closest sites that our engine would not have bothered anyone, but since we would be hooking up the car directly behind the engine we did not want to listen to it while working.

No less than three people stopped to chat with us while we were hooking up the car for towing.  That actually violates good RVing manners (unwritten rules) but they were just curious, being friendly, and/or wishing us safe travels.  The problem is that you are engaged in a critical process and anything that distracts you can result in overlooking something with potentially serious, even disastrous, consequences.  We are experienced enough at this point, however, to double check everything before we drive away, especially if we have been interrupted.  This time we backed the car up until the tow bar arms locked in place and then secured the air line and electrical cables so they would not pull loose.  Linda remained outside to do the light check while I started the bus engine and operated the controls.  Everything checked out and once Linda was back on board we were ready to go.  She had entered our destination into the GPS unit before we pulled out of our site.

Pat & Vickie Lintner’s site at the Jetty Park Campground, Cape Canaveral, FL.

As I pulled around to the exit gate the gatehouse attendants saw or heard us and opened it.  We got big smiles, waves, and “safe travels” from them as we left.  It was 11:50 AM.

The GPS routed us the same way we had determined using our iPad mapping apps.  We turned left out of the resort onto CR-478 headed east.  The road curved around to the north about four miles later and ran up to the town of Center Hill where we picked up CR-48 eastbound.  A half mile later the road turned northeast and a couple miles up the road the GPS told us to turn onto CR-704 (FL-?).  I had just started the turn when I saw the weight restriction sign; nothing over 28,000 pounds GVWR permitted! What the?!!!

I stopped soon enough that I was able to turn back onto CR-48 without having to back up, after traffic cleared, so we caught a break there but were both a bit unnerved by the failure of our Rand-McNally TripMaker RVND 7710 GPS to route us correctly.  It then occurred to me that the very small update I Installed last night might have reset the vehicle configuration as I vaguely recalled this happening once before.  Why R-M would design their GPS unit so it loses configuration data as a result of an update is beyond me, but there are several things about this unit that defy common sense.

Linda used her cell phone to try to figure out where we were now headed and determined that we could still get to where we needed to be.  She then opened the preferences screen on the GPS unit and found the configuration screens.  Sure enough, it thought we only weighed 20,000 pounds (we are closer to 42,000) and were only 12’6″ tall (we are probably 13’1″).  I really fault R-M for this as it creates a potentially dangerous situation.  Anytime the settings are changed, certainly if they are reset as part of an update, the unit should display a message to that effect and not allow the unit to be used until it is acknowledged.  Better yet, I don’t understand why the configuration should be changed as part of the update process.

At some point we turned left onto US-33, which seemed wrong, but Linda verified it was correct.  We ended going south on US-27 all the way back to Clermont and then getting on the Florida Turnpike (FL-91) headed south towards Miami.  We made it through the first Toll Plaza with an “OK to Proceed” sign, so we knew that the new transponder was working, which was a big relief.  The lane guidance feature of the GPS unit worked well and we did not have any difficulty negotiating the interchanges.  Linda kept an eye on the tire sensors throughout the trip.  All of the tires indicated temperatures in the 60’s except the driver side tag, which was 90 to 102.  It was definitely elevated, but not enough to be an immediate problem.  This was not unexpected as I knew that the new pads were dragging more than on the passenger side.  Interestingly, the pressure in that tire had not risen disproportionately higher than any of the other tires, indicating to me that it was probably the valve stem that was warmer due to its direct contact with the wheel, rather than the rubber of the tire, which was getting plenty of cool air blowing around it.

We arrived at Jetty Park at 2:15 PM, only 10 minutes later than our original ETA before we had to detour around the weight-restricted road.  Our name was not on the list (sigh) at the entrance gate but we were given the gate code and directed to the campground.  I found a place to pull up and shut off the engine while I went in to register us, as Linda had effectively lost her voice.  We were not on the list (double sigh) there either (same list, I suspect) but they found us in the computer.  I had confirmation e-mails, if needed, but had not brought them in with me.  We unhooked the car and parked it at the office.  We drove the bus around through the narrow, curvy gravel roads but I was able to make all the turns, even with cars parked near the edges, so the road system here is laid out better than it appears.

Jetty Park is a county-owned and operated public park and beach with a campground that has been turned over to the Cape Canaveral Port Authority to manage.  It is in a premium location in Cape Canaveral, Florida just north of Cocoa Beach and just south of the Kennedy Spaceflight Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.  It is on the south side of the shipping channel that connects Port Canaveral to the Atlantic Ocean.  Cargo ships use this port/channel, but the main attractions are the Disney and other cruise ships and the U.S. Navy Trident submarines.  In addition to all of its other charms, it is one of the best places from which to watch rocket launches, and there is one scheduled for tomorrow night!  I think this is the first time we have stayed in a county park with the motorcoach.  It is more like a state park than the private RV parks and resorts where we usually stay.  It’s probably closest in appearance and feeling to a nice KOA.

Pat and Vickie saw us drive by and walked down to watch while Linda helped me back into site #343, a full hookup, 50 Amp site with nice trees around it.  I could not back far enough into the site to get the front tires onto the concrete pad due to low branches at the rear of the site.  As a result we were slightly low in front.  That would not normally be a problem but the Level Low system would not adjust the front end.  I have a spare air leveling solenoid and might have to work on this while we are here.  Ugh.  I took a picture on my phone and e-mailed it to our son and daughter.

Site #343, our first (of many) sites at JPCG (on right, beyond the trailer. Cape Canaveral, FL.]

I did not plug in the shorepower cord as I wanted to let the house batteries discharge to 24 VDC (50% SOC).  Linda and Vickie searched online for medical clinics.  Linda selected one about three miles away in Cocoa Beach and I drove her there.  It took about two hours from the time we arrived until she had her prescriptions.  We went to the CVS Pharmacy across the street to have them filled.  They would not be ready for 2 to 2.5 hours so we went back to the campground so Linda could rest as comfortably as possible.

Back at our rig I got our Wi-Fi Ranger connected to the park’s public Wi-Fi system and got our iPads and my computer online.  I did not set up Linda’s computer as it will likely be a few days before she is in the humor to use it.  I checked e-mail and the throughput appeared to be usable, if somewhat slow.  I suspect it will be better between midnight and 8 AM, but that is not when I tend to be up.  If we have updates, however, or I need to upload or download are files to/from BCM, I might adjust my schedule.  The RV life requires agility.

I left at 6:30 PM and drove back to Cocoa Beach to pick up Linda’s prescription medications.  I stopped at a Publix supermarket first and bought various groceries before going to the CVS Pharmacy.  On the way back I stopped at a Dunkin Donuts for a coffee for me and finally got back to our coach at 7:45 PM.  Linda helped get the groceries inside and then took her first dose of meds.

I turned the front TV antenna towards Orlando and rescanned for channels.  The TV found at least 60, including CBS and two different PBS affiliates.  I pointed the rear antenna in the same direction and rescanned the rear/bedroom TV but the scan would not compete successfully.  I tried it a couple of times with the same result each time.  Arrrgh.  When in doubt, do a power-off power-on reset, right?  I unplugged the power from the antenna controller and the TV set, waited long enough for any power capacitors to bleed down, and plugged them back in.  I pointed the antenna again and then scanned for channels.  Eureka, this time they were all there!  I should have tried that while we were at FGMCR.  Doh!

We watched our usual Monday night TV shows on CBS plus a few minutes of news and weather and then went to bed.  Given how Linda felt and was still coughing I figured neither of us was going to get a good night’s sleep, but we were both tired and there wasn’t anything else to do except try.  An overnight low of about 50 degrees F was expected so I had closed the roof vents and left the windows open just a crack.  We were still operating off the house batteries and inverter so I did not turn on the usual night lights.

2016/03/22 (T) Jetty Park Atlas

Linda had a really bad night last night, maybe the worst yet since she took ill, with persistent extended episodes of painful coughing.  She was obviously uncomfortable, and no doubt also frustrated, as she was finally able to start taking medication last night at 8 PM.  She was already wrung out and very tired, and I was a bit spent myself after the day we had yesterday, but neither of us got a good night’s sleep.  Today will need to be an easy day, of necessity, and we will need to rest so we can be up and alert late this evening for the rocket launch.  An Atlas V (5) launch is scheduled from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station at 11:05 PM this evening.  It is a resupply mission for the International Space Station.

I got out of bed at 7:15 AM and fed the cats.  I was not well-rested, and would like to have gotten back under the nice warm covers, but I was also uncomfortable and had spent as much time supine as I cared to for one night.  The outside air temperature overnight got down to 51 degrees F but we closed the roof vents, and only left the windows open a crack, before going to bed last night so the inside temperature only dropped to 65.  I did not plug in the shorepower cord when we got here yesterday so I could not use the electric heater pad on the bed, but we had plenty of covers (and cats) to keep us warm and I did not need the extra heat.  I put on my sweats this morning, and was very comfortable.

Linda got up around 7:45 AM to take her medications.  She needed to heat a cup of water to make a salt water gargle mixture but the house batteries were down to 24.0 VDC.  That is roughly a 50% SOC (State Of Charge).  Lead acid batteries, including AGMs, can be discharged a bit more than that but it shortens the number of times they can be cycled so I do not like to let them go much below that level.  I took a few minutes to plug in the shorepower cord and soon enough we had 240/120 VAC power to the coach.  After Linda prepared her gargle mixture I rearranged the kitchen counter and then made coffee and got our vitamins and juice ready.

Linda tried to play a few games on her iPad while I worked on the drafts of my blog posts for the last two days and started the one for today.  Pat and Vickie were out walking and stopped by to see how Linda was doing.  I walked over to the office at 11 to register/pay for the next 7 nights of camping and walked past site #352 on the way.  It was still occupied, but the current occupants were clearly in the final stages of vacating the site.  I walked past the site again on my way back from the office and the current occupants were just pulling out.  When I got back to our coach I let Linda know it was time to move.

We walked over to the new site to scope out where to put the car and how to approach getting the coach backed in and then walked back to our current site.  Linda closed the front windows and secured a few loose items, but mostly left everything sitting right where it was as we were only going for a short, easy ride.  I turned off the Aqua-Hot electric heating element and then took care of the outside stuff.  I shut off the shorepower, disconnected the cord, and stowed it away, once again wishing that I had a cord reel.  I turned on the chassis batteries and engine accessory air supply, and started the engine.  While the engine idled and the chassis aired up Linda drove the car to the new site, parked it, and awaited my arrival.

Moving the coach from site #343 to site #352 was a simple matter of driving counterclockwise almost all the way around Red Knot Circle, the easternmost loop of the campground, and pulling into Siskin Drive headed east.  The location of trees and a light pole made for a tricky spot to get into.  The guy in the site to our east (driver’s side) offered to move his truck but I determined that it was not really in the way.

I lifted the tag axle to shorten the turning radius of the bus while maneuvering through the campground.  The drive was easy but it took a little bit of back and forth for Linda to get me backed in and centered on the concrete pad.  The trees at the back of the site were trimmed up high enough that I could back the coach in far enough to just get the steer tires onto the pad.  That was important as the pad was level enough that I did not need to adjust the leveling of the coach, which was a good thing because yesterday the front end portion of the Level Low system would not work.  I got out of the coach a couple of times to check the location of the tires and tree limbs and was pleased to see that the tag axle tires were actually off the ground.

I shut the engine down and we went through a modified arrival routine.  As usual, I shut off the chassis batteries, closed the air supply valve for the engine accessories, plugged in the shorepower cord, and put power to the coach.  The Magnum 4024 inverter/charger worked fine yesterday and it worked fine again today.  I do not know what caused the fault on the drive up from Arcadia to Webster, but resetting the unit seems to have restored it to proper operation.

The beach at Jetty Park & Campground looking south at Cocoa Beach, FL.

Linda got out the door mat, patio mat, our two bag chairs, and our plastic side table.  She also got the tire covers out of the car and put them on the bus.  I got out the windshield covers and the Little Giant step/extension ladder and set it up.  I retrieved the rivets to hold the lower windshield wipers off the glass and then Linda handed me the windshield wiper covers.  I wanted to put these on first to protect the windshield cover from getting snagged on the metal edges of the arms and wiper blade inserts.

This was the first time we have put the new windshield covers on since we got them two weeks ago so we had to figure out the easiest way to do it, or at least a way that worked. We positioned the large one-piece windshield cover behind the lower wipers and above their drive shafts.  That supported the fabric while I pulled it up under the upper wipers and attached the upper center snap and the lower driver side corner snap.  I repositioned the ladder to the driver side front corner of the bus, pulled the fabric up, and attached the driver side upper corner snap.  I moved the ladder to the passenger side front corner of the bus, pulled the fabric up, attached the upper corner snap, and then the lower corner snap.  I had to stretch to reach the upper snaps, so next time I will make the step ladder a little taller.

There are three covers for the passenger side: one for the door, one for the window above the door, and one for the window behind the door.  These are all small enough that there was no particular difficulty attaching them.  The trick was to start at the top and attach as many snaps as possible before climbing down and repositioning the ladder.  For the one large driver side cover I started with the upper center snap, then attached the upper rear snap.  I moved the ladder forward and attached the upper front snap and then did the three bottom snaps. When we were done with that we were finally free to relax.  Vickie and Linda discussed walking the park and Linda suggested starting between 3 and 3:30 PM.  I gathered she was finally feeling a little better, or was just sick and tired of being sick and tired.

At 2 PM Linda asked me get her some more tissues and sore throat spray.  I headed for the CVS pharmacy but ended up at the Publix supermarket, which is closer by a mile or so.  Besides liking Publix, that meant less traffic to deal with.  Somewhat like the Florida Keys, but not as extreme, we are on a long, skinny island with one main road running along its spine.  Unlike the Keys, there are more side roads and an occasional causeway that goes over to Merritt Island and on to the mainland.  I found what I needed at Publix and was back at the park in due course.

At 3:30 PM we went for a stroll around the campground and park with Vickie as tour guide.  After our stroll Linda was hungry and heated up some Amy’s Tomato Bisque Soup (vegan).  I was really tired and laid down in bed to take a nap that lasted over two hours.  When I got up I had the rest of the soup and a large green salad.  We then watched out usual Tuesday evening CBS TV programs but did not get to see the last 15 minutes of Limitless as Vickie texted to jet me know they were on their way over to fetch us and walk to the shipping channel to watch the rocket launch.

The Atlas V resupply mission for the International Space Station lifted off from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station right on schedule at 11:05 PM.  The launch pad was much farther away from our position than the one used for the military satellite launch two years ago, but was illuminated by multiple light sources producing beams and shadows projecting up and highlighted by the clouds.  For all the launches Pat and Vickie have seen from this park, this was the first time they recalled seeing these lights.

Even though the Atlas V was a much larger rocket than one I saw two years ago, it was not as loud or as visually impressive as the other one.  There were scattered clouds at liftoff, which made for interesting viewing, but the rocket was fairly quickly above them and then disappeared from sight.  I tried to take a few photos, but I did not bother bringing the tripod or spend any time ahead of time figuring out appropriate camera settings.  I did, however, spend a few minutes playing with manual adjustment of the ISO setting.

A man sitting next to me was monitoring mission control on a radio so we knew what was going on before, during, and after the launch.  Only minutes after liftoff the rocket had burned enough fuel to reduce its weight by 75%, was 120 miles above the surface of the earth, was 338 miles downrange, and was traveling just under 10,000 miles per hour!  It’s time to orbit was projected to be 21 minutes and I believe the orbital velocity would be approximately 18,000 MPH.  (The actual orbital velocity would obviously be a very exact number.)

When it was all over we carried our chairs back to our rig and then walked to Pat and Vickie’s coach so she could drop her’s off.  Pat went in for the evening but the three of us went for a leisurely midnight stroll around the entire campground.  In spite of the event that had just occurred the campground was quiet.  There is some general purpose street lighting here, but not too much.  It’s a nice campground and I could see why Pat and Vickie like to come here.

Back at our coach Linda decided to sleep in the living room.  More specifically, she decided to sleep in the two captain’s chairs by locking them in position facing one another, reclining the backs, and putting the hassock between them.  She thought she might sleep better in a partially upright position.  I finished a few e-mails and retired to the bedroom where I was joined by the cats.  I was too tired to write but too awake to go right to sleep so I turned on the TV.  After flipping through the channels I settled on an old movie, The Battle of Britain.  By 2 AM it was still on, owing to too much time for commercials and not enough time for the movie, so I turned it off and went to sleep.

The “Jetty” and pier at Jetty Park. Cape Canaveral, FL.

2016/03/23 (W) On The Road To Recovery

Linda slept seven hours last night with very little coughing, at least that I heard.  She slept in the living room (her choice) and left the bedroom to me.  I had a long early evening nap and did not fall asleep until 2 AM.  Even then I did not sleep that well and got up at 8 AM.  Linda was still asleep but woke up not long after.  She wanted coffee so rather than grind up beans and deal with the whole do-it-yourself process we walked up to the campground office with our two Tervis mugs/caps and filled them there.  Free coffee all day, every day, is a nice campground amenity and not one we have found anywhere else.

Pat and Vickie decided to go to Epcot Center at Disney World today for the annual flower and garden show.  Vickie texted me to see how Linda was doing and if we wanted to go.  Linda was definitely not well enough yet to go anywhere or do anything, so we stayed behind and had an easy day at our home on wheels, starting with toast and jam for our breakfast.  Linda read a little and checked our banking.  I talked to my sister about our dad for a bit, but spent most of the morning completing draft blog posts for the last three days.  We both got showers, which brought our fresh water level down to ~1/6th tank (20 gallons).

I copied the photos I’ve taken during the last week, including the rocket launch last night, to my computer.  I selected one of the rocket launch for this week’s post card, processed it, and e-mailed it to Linda’s iPad.  While she created a post card for grand-daughter Madeline, I connected the fresh water hose and water softener, tested the harness of the water supply, (7 to 10 gpg), filled the fresh water tank (100 gallons), and connected the waste water drain hose.

With my outside chores done I selected two photos from my article on replacing the bearings in a Webasto diesel burner and e-mailed the image numbers to Gary and Jorge at BCM.  They will be used on the “Coming in June” page of the May issue, one for my articles and one for Lloyd DeGerald’s multi-step maintenance list.

The nighttime launch of a rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station as seen from Jetty Park. Note: This was a long-exposure handheld shot. I was braced against a sign to take it.

I heated a can of Amy’s Golden Lentil “Indian Dal” soup and washed some black grapes for our lunch.  There was a cool breeze outside but a bit of heat gain in the coach so we sat outside, doodled on our iPads, and dozed in our folding bag chairs.  A little before 5 PM Linda decided she wanted to go for a walk on the beach.  The wind was strong out of the east with 3 to 4 foot waves breaking just off shore, but the late afternoon sun was warm enough to make for a pleasant stroll south towards Cocoa Beach.  As the sun dropped lower in the sky and was filtered by thin clouds it turned slightly chilly so we turned around and headed back to Jetty Park.  We continued our walk through the picnic and playground area and walked along the channel to the boat ramps and then to the campground office.  We got a couple of cups of coffee and sat down to watch the news but the TV was tuned to FOX News, so we left and walked back to our site, noting that Pat and Vickie’s car was back at their site.

We discussed what to do for dinner and decided on cooking the vegan Italian sausage and using it to top a salad.  I texted Vickie to ask how the garden and flower show was, and let her know that Linda was feeling slightly better.  We gave the cats their monthly dose of Cheristin flea medication, which they were due for yesterday.

Vickie came over at 7:15 PM with her iPad and we looked at all of the pictures she took at the Epcot Center Flower and Garden show.  It was clearly a spectacular exhibition and since we could not attend we were glad to see it through Vickie’s photographs.  By the time Vickie returned to her coach it was almost 9 PM so Linda suggested that we just have granola for dinner.  That sounded quick and easy to me, besides which I love her granola, so I did not need any convincing.

On Wednesday evenings we like to watch nature, science, and technology programs on PBS.  We have two PBS stations potentially available to us here at Jetty Park Campground but neither of them have 100% reliable signals.  I experimented with a range of antenna directions and selected the one that seemed to offer the most reliable signal for the 24.n channels.  NOVA was on the recreation of Noah’s Ark and Secrets of the Dead was on the discovery of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon in Ninevah, 250 miles north of Babylon and built by King Sennacherib.

Linda once again set up the captain’s chairs as a bed so she could sleep sitting up.  I could not tune in channel 24 in the bedroom so I finished watching the show in the living room.  At 11 PM I tuned off the lights in the front of the coach and left Linda to sleep while I retired to the bedroom to write, play a few games, and watch a little more TV before going to sleep.

 

2016/03/08 Custom Window Covers for the Bus

Bill and Brenda Phelan, of RV Windshield Covers of Florida, operate a mobile business based out of Lakeland, Florida.  This is a photo gallery of the 1-day process they went through to make and install a set of five mesh covers for the windshield and front side windows of our 1991/92 Prevost H3-40 VIP Royale Coach (Monaco) converted coach.  We were at Florida Grande Motor Coach Resort near Webster, Florida, at the time.  Their mobile workshop is a converted EMS truck and is also an RV suitable for business trips of up to three weeks.  The photos are not captioned.  Click on any image to open the gallery view.

2016/03/04-06 (F–N) BTCRVR Conclusion

2016/03/04 (F) Pre-departure Prep

I was up much later than normal last night trying to write my blog post for yesterday, get our network back online, and get my computer usable again.  I managed to do all of that, and was finally able to check my e-mail and off-load the photos I took earlier in the day to my computer and back them up to our NAS.  I saw some late night TV programs along the way and it was 2 AM when I finally got to bed.  On the plus side, I was tired, fell asleep right away, and slept well until 6 AM when the rain and the cats woke me up.  I got up, closed the roof vents, put a scoop of food in their bowls, and went back to bed.

Linda walks a lot but finds it difficult to just stand, and we did a lot of standing yesterday, both at the Edison Ford Estates and on the drive through the Wildlife Refuge on Sanibel Island, so she was a bit sore and tired from yesterday’s outing.  She got up around 7 AM this morning and I got up to stay an hour later.  I made coffee and she toasted bagels, which we enjoyed with some of the vegan cream cheese she picked up the other day at Publix.

We only have three nights left for this winter season at Big Tree Carefree RV Resort (BTCRVR) and we have been trying to prepare for our departure on Monday in small increments.  Chores that we accomplished before lunch included:

  • (B) Checking the bus tire pressures. I had to add 2.5 PSI to the passenger side steer tire.  That required me to get the air compressor out, along with the hose and air-chuck, and then put it all away; a lot of work for 2.5 PSI, but it had to be done.  It  reminded me, however, of how much I would like to have a built-in high pressure air-compressor and tank with distribution lines running to the four corners of the bus and terminating in air hose fittings.  That would allow me to just use a short (curly) air-hose that is easily moved to each position and takes very little space to store.
  • (B) Checking the windshield caulk. It was a mess and had water behind it that apparently kept it from setting up (curing) correctly.  I tried to fix it by pressing the water out but that just made a bigger mess.  I was going to test it for leaks with a hose but changed my mind after seeing the mess that was already there.
  • (B) E-mailing Pat and Vickie about the March 11 rocket launch at Cape Canaveral.
  • (L) Vacuuming the interior of the bus and mopping the floor.
  • (L) Cutting my hair.
  • (B) Calling Butch. He and Fonda were still in Quartzsite but planned to leave tomorrow or Sunday and take 3 to 4 weeks to get home.  Butch was actually in Phoenix with a ham radio buddy on their way to the Ham Radio Outlet (HRO) store when I called but was able to chat for a while.

Lunch was vegan hot dogs and sliced apples.  After lunch Linda got a text from her sister, Sr. Marilyn, informing us that her 50th Jubilee is scheduled for August 6 (this year).  That immediately changed our plans for the second half of this coming summer and the first half of the fall.  Our plan was to attend two RV rallies in the northeast U.S. and then visit the Prevost Car Inc. factory in Quebec enroute to the Canadian Maritimes, from which we would work our way back through New England in the early fall, arriving home by mid-October in time for Nickolas Guy-Erickson’s wedding on the 21st.  I was going to call FMCA today and register for the national rally in Springfield, Massachusetts, but the dates are August 3 – 6, so that clearly was not going to work.

We are committed to attending the Escapees RV Club 56th Escapade in Essex Junction, Vermont, which starts Sunday, July 24th, as we are both working the event as staff.  We will have to be there sooner, but do not know the exact date yet.  Departure will be on Friday the 29th, which gives us plenty of time to make it to St. Louis, Missouri before the Jubilee.  Still, the news suddenly left us with a whole lot of new decisions to make.  It will also allow us to attend the August CCO/GLCC Back-to-the-Bricks Rally in Clio, Michigan, and the September GLCC Surplus & Salvage Rally in Elkhart, Indiana.  Indeed, it opens up the possibility of building the barn this summer and/or having Daryl Mech, from DCM Heating and Cooling, install a new air-conditioning system for the house.  The one thing we knew for sure was that we were not going to travel from Vermont all the way to Missouri and then turn around and head to Quebec or the Maritimes.  That will have to wait for some other year.

Our afternoon chores included doing the laundry and updating my iPad, which I did while waiting for the laundry.  But first I loaded up a few additional recyclables and drove over to the Turner Center to drop them off.  There was some sort of problem at the NW corner of FL-70 and Turner Avenue that involved police, fire, and EMS vehicles and personnel, and had traffic tied up in every direction.  I managed to make the turn from westbound FL-70 onto Turner (which only goes north from there) but decided not to return by that route.  I headed east from the Turner Center but was not able to cut through Arcadia Village as the north (rear) entrance is gated.  The first available north-south road that went through to FL-70 was many miles farther east, but it made for a nice drive in the country.  I stopped at Walmart for grapes and bananas before returning to our RV resort.

We had planned to go swimming in the late afternoon and then take showers but it did not work out that way.  I would normally dump the two holding tanks before we travel, but I did not want to this time as I want to slosh the ingredients around on the drive from Arcadia to Webster.  As such, I am trying to get them reasonably full, but not so full that I have to dump them.

For dinner Linda made nice, large salads.  After dinner Linda went down to Mara’s motorhome to take care of her cats.  I called Chuck but he did not pick up so I left him a message.  Friday night TV is a bit of a wasteland so I edited the last few blog posts for November 2015.   I then selected a photo that Linda took of me standing in front of a Mysore Fig tree at the Edison Ford Estates to use in her next PhotoPostCard for Madeline.  She also made a post card for our grandniece, Lilly, using the photo of the baby alligators from Everglades National Park.  I found a photo of Lilly that her mom, my niece Amanda, had taken and set that to Linda to use to make a “sticker” to put on the photo post card.  I decided to purchase a license (lifetime) for the Faststone Image Viewer software and took care of that.

When Linda returned from her cat sitting duties we made the bed, had a few grapes and a small glass of wine (Barefoot Riesling), and turned in for the night.

2016/03/05 (S) Mara & Michael Return

It was pleasantly cool last night, with temperatures in the 60’s at bedtime and headed towards an overnight low in the upper 50’s; in other words, perfect sleeping weather.  And sleep we did.  Linda got a text message from Mara letting us know that she and Michael were waiting to disembark from the cruise ship and indicating that they had a wonderful time.  They were planning on stopping at a Whole Foods Market and wanted to know if Linda needed anything.  Linda requested plum vinegar, seitan, and vegan ricotta cheese, items we cannot find in Arcadia.

Linda got up around 8:15 AM and showered.  I got up at 8:30 AM, made our coffee, and then took my shower.  As a result of these showers, which we were going to take at the shower house, I am going to have to make some decisions today or tomorrow relative to dumping our holding tanks and adding fresh water.  We don’t need very much fresh water in the on-board tank for the trip to Florida Grande Motor Coach Resort in Webster on Monday and I would like to dispense with that weight in favor of keeping the black- and gray-water tanks mostly full.  The idea is that the motion of the coach will create an agitation effect which will help clean the tanks.  (I don’t really expect that it to happen, but it’s worth a shot.)

We had a slow leisurely morning as we lingered over our coffee and had granola with blueberries and bananas for breakfast.  Linda and Mara arranged for the four of us to have dinner together this evening so she made a grocery list.  I downloaded a new game named Wood Puzzle and tried it.  It’s a little bit like Tetris, but without constantly moving pieces, so it was somewhat fun.  I was never a big fan of Tetris.

Linda left at 10:30 AM to tend to Mara’s cats and then walk to the Winn-Dixie supermarket.  I got dressed, checked my e-mail, got the registration code for Faststone Image Viewer, and entered it into the software.  I checked the notifications in RVillage and visited the RVillage Stakeholders Group.  Curtis had posted a link to an “explainer video” so I e-mailed the link to our iPads.  I then gathered up the bedspread and large bath towels and headed to the laundry room.

While I was waiting for the laundry I finished yesterday’s blog post, uploaded it to our Dropbox, started today’s post, and played a few games.  The laundry was finally dry at 1:30 PM and I returned to our coach.  Linda had already returned, done some prep work for dinner, and was out walking around the resort when I returned.  She wanted to shop at Joshua Citrus one more time before we left so she drove there while I settled in to work on uploading blog posts!  My goal was to upload the remaining posts for October 2015, starting with the one for the 21st.  I accomplished that goal just before 6 PM.

Mara and Michael got back to Big Tree Carefree RV Resort mid-late afternoon and arrived at our coach for dinner at 6:30 PM.  Linda found a recipe for vegan Parmesan cheese and made some earlier in the day.  She used it to make a kale salad with almonds and a lemon dressing.  It was outstanding.  The main course was a quinoa and black beans dish that she has made before.  It was served hot and was a good choice for a cool evening.  She bought an Alamos Malbec wine (Argentina) and a bottle of Barefoot Moscato, but I was the only one drinking white wine so I finished the Barefoot Riesling we opened earlier this week.  Dessert was non-dairy chocolate ice cream with fresh sliced strawberries.

We had a good chat about Mara and Michael’s experience on the Holistic Holiday at Sea cruise.  There were a few speakers that we heard on the two cruises we went on, but an equal number of new speakers that we have not had the opportunity to hear in person.  Mara bought four cookbooks and left them for Linda to peruse.  It was very satisfying for us that that they had such a good experience since we were the ones that got Mara interested in the cruise and she got Michael to come along.

They left a little before 9 PM and walked back to Mara’s rig.  We watched an episode of Lucifer and then parts of two different fundraiser concerts on PBS; Brit Floyd and The BeeGees One Night Only.

2016/03/06 (N) Last Day Here

The cats were prowling by 6 AM so I got up, added food to their bowls, plugged in the charging cable for our Verizon Mi-Fi, and went back to bed.  It was already getting light and the birds were starting to chirp as if their calls were somehow responsible for the rising of the sun.  Squirrels and rabbits were, no doubt, scurrying about on the ground around our rig, as Juniper was taking it all in with her usual morning intensity.  Juniper got under the covers between us for a while and we drifted in and out of sleep in rhythm with the cats activities until 7:30 AM when we finally got out of bed to stay.

It was a bit chilly in our motorcoach, so I put on my sweats and slippers.  I made our morning coffee and then settled in on the sofa with my iPad and monogrammed throw.  I was joined by Jasper and later by Juniper as we listened to the Mockingbirds and Crows and watched the Vultures soar just above the trees as they headed out on their daily search for food.  Linda perused the cookbooks that Mara left, looking for recipes, while I put the finishing touches on yesterday’s blog post and started on today’s.

Today was our last full day at Big Tree Carefree RV Resort (BTCRVR) in Arcadia, Florida and we did not have any big plans other than a trip to one of the local supermarkets and dinner with our friends, Mara and Michael.  Mara and Linda definitely wanted to use the swimming pool one last time.  We leave tomorrow morning and Mara and Michael are pulling out on Tuesday.  We are headed north about 100 miles to Florida Grande Motor Coach Resort near Webster, Florida.  Mara and Michael are headed north a much shorter distance to the Thousand Trails Preserve in Wauchula on the Peace River.  We plan to meet up with them again in Winter Haven for a quintessentially “old Florida” water skiing show.  They might also drive over to Jetty Park while we are there to see a rocket launch, assuming it actually lifts off as scheduled on the 22nd.  It is an Atlas 5 resupply mission for the International Space Station, so it would be quite an experience.

BTCRVR has been a nice, comfortable place to spend a couple of months this winter and has provided the base of operations we hoped it would for exploring south and southwest Florida.  The resort is a bit older with approximately 80% park model trailers, and I estimate that more than 90% of the units here never move.  It is a 55+ community, but most of the residents are quite a bit older than that.  It is a clean, well-kept, and attractive park, however, with nice facilities and very friendly people.

Big Tree is also an active park, with regularly scheduled events every day (morning, afternoon, and evening) as well as special events like concerts, dinners, and dances.  These activities are well attended from what we saw, and lots of folks walk, ride their bicycles (and tricycles) every day, and use the swimming pool.  Many permanent residents have their own washer and dryer so I never had a problem getting our laundry done in the laundry room.  Although the park did not have a distributed Wi-Fi system, it did have free Wi-Fi available at the office/activity building and we made use of it for downloading updates for our smartphones, iPads, and notebook computers.  Given that we updated both of our computers from Windows 8.1 to Windows 10 while we were here, the Wi-Fi was very much appreciated, allowing us to use our 12 GB Verizon data plan for routine tasks such as e-mail, banking, visiting websites, browsing for information, and transferring files, all of which we prefer to do in the comfort of our coach.

I took care of sending an e-mail to a dozen friends and family members and then settled in to upload blog posts starting with November 1, 2015.  Linda went to the swimming pool at 12:30 PM and I joined her there at 3 PM.  Mara and Linda were sun bathing when I arrived but joined me in the shallow end of the pool where we sloshed around and chatted about the whole-food plant-based approach to human nutrition and our travel plans for the next year or so.  We were soaking in the hot tub / whirlpool when Michael arrived and pulled up a chair.  We all chatted briefly and then Linda and I took showers and returned to our coach.  We called our son-in-law, Chris, to wish him a happy birthday.  I then resumed uploading blog posts.  By 5:30 PM I had uploaded the posts through November 12, 2105 and stopped.  We were due at Mara’s rig at 6:30 PM for dinner so I took a short nap.

Linda gathered up Mara’s WFPB cookbooks and we walked over to her rig at 6:25 PM.  Michael served the wine and we chatted for an hour while Mara pulled dinner together.  She made a salad of julienned vegetables with a sesame seed dressing.  The main dish was quinoa, lentils, sweet potatoes, and broccoli.  Dessert was a chocolate mousse made with avocado, banana, and cocoa and served with fresh raspberries and a piece of dark chocolate.  Seriously, with food like that why wouldn’t you be a vegan?

It was going on 9 PM by the time we finished dinner so we stayed and watched the final episode of Downton Abbey.  All’s well that ends well, I suppose, and the final two hours of the series did, indeed, end well.  It was one of the most popular (most viewed?) programs ever to air on PBS, and deservedly so.  Fortunately there is a lot of quality programming available on the PBS channels and Masterpiece Theatre, along with Masterpiece Mysteries, will no doubt continue to draw large numbers of viewers in the years to come.

When we walked back to our motorcoach at 10:50 PM the night air was very crisp, the sky dark and clear, and the stars very bright.  Orion hung high in the southwest sky and the Big Dipper claimed the northeast quadrant.  If not for the light pollution of the RV resort it was the kind of night where we might have seen the Milky Way.  Back at the coach we put on a PBS program about the WW II WASPs (Women’s Airforce Service Pilots) and one women in particular who went on to continue flying into her late 80’s and logged over 40,000 hours of flight time before she stopped recording it.  We are moving to a new RV resort tomorrow so I had the lights out before midnight and quickly drifted off to sleep.

 

2016/03/03 (R) Edison Ford Estates

Our plan for today was to visit two places in southwest Florida that we had not gotten to yet; the Edison Ford Estates in Fort Myers, and Sanibel/Captiva Islands.  As usual when we plan to leave early and be away from the coach for the day we did not make coffee or eat breakfast.  Linda walked down to Mara’s motorhome to tend to her cats while I took care of ours.  I then loaded the camera gear and a few other things in the car and drove down to Mara’s rig to pick up Linda.  We stopped at the local Bank of America ATM and then at Dunkin Donuts for coffee and a bagel for Linda.  (I had my vegan apricot bearclaw pastries from Publix.)  Suitably provisioned we headed down FL-31 to Fort Myers.

Linda stands by one of the many magnificent trees at the Thomas Edison and Henry Ford Estates.  Fort Myers, FL.

Linda stands by one of the many magnificent trees at the Thomas Edison and Henry Ford Estates. Fort Myers, FL.

The southern terminus of FL-31 is at FL-80.  From there it was about five miles (west) to the city limit of Ft. Myers.  We continued on FL-80 through downtown, which is an attractive and very upscale part of the city, to where it ends and turns into McGregor Boulevard.  Shortly after turning onto McGregor we pulled into the parking lot for the Edison Ford Estates complex at 9:30 AM.

The Edison & Ford Estates abound in botanical delights.  Fort Myers, FL.

The Edison & Ford Estates abound in botanical delights. Fort Myers, FL.

The Edison Ford Estates is a historical complex that preserves the winter estates of Thomas Alva Edison and Henry Ford on the east bank of the Caloosahatchee River in Fort Myers, Florida.  The Edison estate was named Seminole and the adjacent Ford Estate was named The Mangoes.  There are two identical houses on the Edison Estate and a more modest house on the Ford Estate.  Other buildings and structures include caretaker quarters, garages, a small office for Edison, a swimming pool, a cistern and water system, gardens, and lots of exotic trees.  When it was originally developed the Edison Estate included a pier that extended 1,500 feet out into the Caloosahatchee River.  It had trains and transport cars and was initially used to bring in all of the materials to build and landscape the Estate as these had to get to the site by ship.

Both men were workaholics and although they only used these estates for a few weeks in the winter they worked as well as socialized while here.  Indeed, Edison had a lab on the property where extensive work was done on trying to find a plant source of latex, the key material needed to make rubber, which could be quickly and easily grown in the U.S.  Edison and Ford, along with Harvey Firestone, formed a biological research company to finance this research, and presumably profit from any positive outcome.  Some 17,000 plants were tested and the one that emerged as most viable was Goldenrod.  Ford and Edison had almost 1,300 patents between them, and Edison is still the only person to have been awarded at least one U.S. patent every year for 65 contiguous years.  His greatest invention, however, could not be patented; the modern research and development laboratory.

Bruce poses by one of the large trees at the Edison Ford Estates.  Linda used this image for one of the weekly postcards she made and had sent to grand-daughter Madeline.  Fort Myers, FL.

Bruce poses by one of the large trees at the Edison Ford Estates. Linda used this image for one of the weekly postcards she made and had sent to grand-daughter Madeline. Fort Myers, FL.

We wrapped up our visit to the Edison and Ford winter estates at 2 PM and headed on down McGregor Boulevard, the boulevard of Royal Palms, towards Sanibel Island.  Our initial destination on the island was an organic vegan cafe named Sanibel Sprouts.  We did not have any trouble getting onto the island or getting to the restaurant but the traffic backed up to exit the island reminded us of our recent experience in the Florida Keys and was more than a bit concerning.

For lunch we split the Mexican salad.  The salad used a base of arugula, a dark leafy green with its own unique, slightly peppery taste that was very well suited to the dish.  A vegan “taco meat” mixed with ground walnuts added depth and texture, and a dressing with cumin tied it all together.  We then split an order of waffles which consisted of two waffles topped with strawberries and bananas and served with real maple syrup.  Both dishes were excellent and I asked the cook how the waffles were made.  She indicated that they used the King Arthur brand gluten-free general purpose baking flour (rice flour based), Earth Balance soy-based vegan butter substitute (5 scoops), almond milk, and vanilla flavored Stevia sweetener.  They were fluffy, light, crispy on the outside, and very tasty.  Yum.

The two Edison winter homes are mirror images of each other and joined by a covered walkway.  Edison Ford Estates, Fort Myers, FL.

The two Edison winter homes are mirror images of each other and joined by a covered walkway. Edison Ford Estates, Fort Myers, FL.

After lunch we continued deeper into Sanibel Island.  We saw a sign for the J. N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center and pulled in.  There was a one-way road through a section of the Refuge but it was a “U. S. Fee Area” ($6 per car).  We checked to see if Linda’s Golden Access Pass was valid for entry.  It was, so we went in.  Although the skies had become overcast the drive through the Refuge was an unplanned event and an unanticipated treat.  We got see a variety of birds but the highlight included two different opportunities to see White Pelicans, one of which also included Roseate Spoonbills and other birds.  White Pelicans are the second largest bird in the continental U. S. (Behind the California Condor) with a wingspan of nine (9) feet.  We also saw a couple of alligators which surprised us as the water here is connected to the Gulf of Mexico.  Indeed, the tide was coming in while we were there.

The Edison-Ford-Firestone partnership maintained an active, working laboratory on the Fort Myers estate that had year-round staff.  Edison and Ford only spent a few weeks each year at their winter homes, but worked whenever they were here.  Fort Myers, FL.

The Edison-Ford-Firestone partnership maintained an active, working laboratory on the Fort Myers estate that had year-round staff. Edison and Ford only spent a few weeks each year at their winter homes, but worked whenever they were here. Fort Myers, FL.

From the end of the drive through the NWR we continued on to the north end of Sanibel Island and drove over the short bridge to Captiva Island.  We drove to the end of the road, turned around, and drove back.  There is a lot of “island commerce” on Sanibel Island.  Captiva Island, by comparison, is mostly residential, vacation rental, and resort properties.  Many of the homes were massive, elaborately landscaped costal properties.  I estimated that houses of 3,000 to 4,000 square feet were common, 5,000 to 6,000 square feet were numerous, and some of them had to be 10,000 to 15,000 square feet.  We tend to think of the really expensive real estate in Florida being in places like Naples, Marco Island, Miami Beach, and West Palm Beach, but it’s hard to imagine that any of them are more expensive than the island mansions we saw on Captiva Island.

Rare White Pelicans at the J. N. “Ding Darling” National Wildlife Refuge & Bird Sanctuary on Sanibel Island in Florida.  The White Pelicans are the second largest birds in North America, and the largest members of the pelican family.  This photograph does not do justice to their size, which includes a nine foot wingspan.  The pink birds (lower right) are Roseate Spoonbills.

Rare White Pelicans at the J. N. “Ding Darling” National Wildlife Refuge & Bird Sanctuary on Sanibel Island in Florida. The White Pelicans are the second largest birds in North America, and the largest members of the pelican family. This photograph does not do justice to their size, which includes a nine foot wingspan. The pink birds (lower right) are Roseate Spoonbills.

The drive back down Captiva and Sanibel was smooth and flowed right along as far as the restaurant.  At that point we encountered the traffic backup we had seen coming in.  Traffic was not moving at all and people were pulling out of line and turning around.  Our map showed that there was an alternate way to get back to the causeway.  We suspected that the turn-arounds were locals who were headed that way so we decided to do that as well.  The traffic could not be worse and we would get to see a different part of the island.

That proved to be the case and we were only in a stop-and-go back up for about 10 minutes instead of the one-to-two hours I figured it would take if we stayed on Periwinkle Way.  We were off the island by 6:45 PM and headed back to the mainland on FL-867.  Fairly quickly we were on FL-865 headed more easterly but on a faster road.  We eventually got to US-41 (the Tamiami Trail) and headed north.  Not too far along I spotted a Panera and we stopped to get coffee.  We continued north as far as Colonial where we headed east to I-75.  From there it was five miles north to FL-80, three miles east to FL-31, and 36 miles north to our RV resort in Arcadia.

An alligator just shows its head (left center).  J. N. “Ding Darling” National Wildlife Refuge & Bird Sanctuary, Sanibel Island, FL

An alligator just shows its head (left center). J. N. “Ding Darling” National Wildlife Refuge & Bird Sanctuary, Sanibel Island, FL

We got back to our coach at 8:10 PM.  Linda grabbed a flashlight and the keys for Mara’s rig and walked down to take care of her cats.  I unloaded the car and then took care of our cats.  I planned to check my e-mail and then settle in to watch our usual Thursday evening TV programs, but my computer and the scheduled programs altered my plan.

This Ibis was a little farther behind this alligator than the photos makes it appear, but not that much.  Being behind an alligator is not necessarily any safer than being in front of one.  J. N. “Ding Darling” National Wildlife Refuge & Bird Sanctuary, Sanibel Island, FL.

This Ibis was a little farther behind this alligator than the photos makes it appear, but not that much. Being behind an alligator is not necessarily any safer than being in front of one. J. N. “Ding Darling” National Wildlife Refuge & Bird Sanctuary, Sanibel Island, FL.

Our e-mail servers were not responding so I shut down my computer and all of our network/comm equipment and restarted everything in a specific order.  Disaster!  My computer would not log in and claimed to have missing authentication components.  This is the second time my ASUS laptop has crapped out since I upgraded it to Windows 10, and I was pretty unhappy about it.  At this point I do not have any confidence its stability, especially its update process, and think it was clearly not ready for release.  Unfortunately not upgrading really wasn’t an option.

I watched Charlie Rose on PBS followed by Tavis Smiley and a program on Black artists.  That was followed by This Old House and Ask TOH.  I think I restarted my computer several times before it finally “healed” itself and allowed me to log in.  With all of those TV programs as background I finished most of this post, off-loaded photos, and backed them up to the NAS.  I tried my e-mail again and was finally able to access it.  It was 2 AM when I finally went to bed, which had not been my plan when I got up this morning.

 

2016/02/25-29 (R – M) Sand Castle Stallions Port

2016/02/25 (R) Siesta Key

We were up at 6:30 AM this morning and did not have coffee or breakfast.  We picked up Mara and Michael at 7 AM and headed west on FL-70 towards Bradenton.  Our destination was an endodontic office in Lakewood Ranch were Mara had an 8 AM appointment for a root canal procedure.  As we were coming into town Michael spotted a Dunkin Donuts.  Location duly noted.  I pulled up to the office building at 7:55 and we all went in.

The endodontist said the procedure would take about an hour.  Michael stayed to wait for Mara while Linda and I drove back to the DD for coffee and something to eat.  The DD was in a small shopping plaza next to a Shell station so I topped off the car’s fuel tank before we topped off ours’.  I bought regular gasoline (10% Ethanol) for $1.56 per gallon.  We were getting ready to leave DD when Mara texted Linda that she would be longer than originally thought.  The tooth needed a filling and the dental practice next door just had a cancellation and could take her right away.  That was fortunate for Mara as she and Michael are leaving on Saturday for a week long cruise.  She also wasn’t sure she could get in to see her dentist before July, which was much too long of a time to rely on the temporary filling the endodontist had put in place.

With Mara’s dental needs taken care of we headed west on FL-70 to I-75 south to Exit 207 and then west to US-41.  A short jog to the right (north) and back to the left and we were on Siesta Key Drive headed west to the island of Siesta Key.  We drove through the town, which was very quaint (upscale trendy, actually) and found a place to park with public access to the beach.  The Siesta Key beach is very fine white sands, reputed to be the finest and whitest of any beach in Florida.  We walked quite a ways south from our entry point past the main public entrance and numerous lifeguard stands, all of which were staffed.  The wind was strong and the waves were high and I took a few photos.

A group of Royal Terns face into the wind on Siesta Key Beach.  Siesta Key, FL.

A group of Royal Terns face into the wind on Siesta Key Beach. Siesta Key, FL.

When we got back to the car we exited the island via the southern bridge and drove down US-41 to Venice.  We found a parking spot, which is not easy in Venice, and walked around the historic downtown area, which is now a mix of quaint and upscale shopping and lots of places to eat.  It is a very attractive area but there were a lot of people there.

We were just window shopping when we walked past the TableTop store.  As the name suggests, they sell a wide variety of products used to set a dining table.  We looked around to see if they had plastic wine glasses but did not see any.  We were just about to leave when we spotted one.  It was smaller than we wanted so we asked if they had others.  They did, we just did not see them!  They were not plastic, however, but were made of polycarbonate.  That’s the same material used for contact lens blanks and motorcycle visors.  It felt heavy duty and had a slight bluish cast.  The sales associate assured us that they could be cleaned in a dishwasher and would not discolor, craze, or crack, and will not break even if dropped on concrete (although we do not intend to test that claim).  We bought four of them at $15 each.

Mara and Linda play in the fountain in Venice, FL.

Mara and Linda play in the fountain in Venice, FL.

When we had seen enough of Venice we returned to the car and drove a short distance to Cafe Evergreen in Nokomis for linner.  I had the veggie (vegan) burger and Linda had the vegan beet Rueben.  Mara had the stir-fry noodle dish, which both of us have had before, and Michael had the Chana Masala.  Our waiter, by his own admission, was having an off day but the food was good and we took our time enjoying it.

When we were done with our meal we were also done exploring for the day and I drove us back to Arcadia.  On the drive back we discussed plans for tomorrow, which included Solomon’s Castle in the late morning, Hermann’s Royal Lipizzaner Stallions in the mid-afternoon, some before and after errands, and a picnic lunch.  Back at the RV Resort we dropped Michael and Mara at her RV and then returned to ours.  We watched our Thursday night CBS TV programs and had some popcorn later in the evening.  We headed to bed at 11 PM, watched a few minutes of Charlie Rose, and then went to sleep.

2016/02/26 (F) Castle Stallions

Our two main attractions today were Solomon’s Castle, near Ono, Florida and Hermann’s Royal Lipizzaner Stallions near Myakka City, Florida.  Both locations were within 25 miles of Arcadia and each other, so we did not have to endure an excessive amount of car travel.

We picked up Mara and Michael at 10:15 AM, stopped at the local Wells Fargo bank branch, and then headed west out of town.  At the edge of town we headed north on FL-661 towards Ono.  We turned onto CR-665 and five miles later turned off onto Salomon Road to the parking lot of Solomon’s Castle.  We had the address in the GPS, but there were occasional old hand-painted signs confirming the route.  We arrived just before 11 AM, when the “castle” opens for tours, but the parking lot was already crowded.  We bought our tickets for the 11:30 tour and then strolled around the part of the grounds between the parking lot and the castle while we waited.  Horse Creek runs through the property, much of which was wet.

Michael and Mara by the horse statute near the entrance to Solomon’s Castle.  Ono, FL.

Michael and Mara by the horse statute near the entrance to Solomon’s Castle. Ono, FL.

Solomon’s Castle was built by, and is still the home of, Henry Solomon and his wife.  Henry, who is about to turn 81, is an artist who has been creating art objects for 76 years.  Much of the main floor of the castle is an art museum, although the walking tour includes the living room and kitchen.  Other living spaces are on the second floor and were not part of the tour.  There is also a guest bedroom available to rent for $125 per night but I do not recall if an overnight stay included breakfast.  There is, however, a scale “replica” of the Santa Maria that houses part of the onsite cafe and is run by Solomon’s daughter and her husband, who live in a separate house on the property.

Solomon’s Castle and his art are quirky.  Although we did not get to meet him, we came away with an image of his sense of humor, and caught a glimpse of him in his workshop while we were walking the grounds after the tour.  Solomon works in a variety of materials but mostly metal and wood, and mostly with discarded scrap materials including food cans, beer cans, and parts/pieces of automobiles.  I took quite a few photos while we were there.  I don’t know what our son’s professional opinion of Solomon’s corpus would be, but some of his pieces were interesting and we had to respect the sheer quantity of work he has produced.  He seemed to have a particular interest in Picasso, copying several of the master’s works in wood montage.

Mara, Michael, and Linda on the grounds of Solomon’s Castle.  Ono, FL.

Mara, Michael, and Linda on the grounds of Solomon’s Castle. Ono, FL.

From the castle we continued north on CR-665 up to FL-64, the Florida Cracker Trail, and then west about five miles to Wauchula Road where we headed south to Myakka City.  At FL-70 in Myakka City we headed east about 1/2 mile and pulled in to a local park on the north side of the road that affronted the west bank of the Myakka River.  The picnic tables were all bolted to the concrete slabs that served as the floors of the open-sided shelters so we ate our lunch in the shade.  The air temperature was in the mid-60’s, and there was a breeze, so we ate with our jackets on.

After lunch we headed west on FL-70 to the other side of Myakka City were we turned south on Singletary Road.  About seven miles down we found the entrance to the Hermann’s Royal Lipizzaner Stallions and Spanish American Riding School complex.  Hermann’s is the home of a group of Lipizzaner horses that tour North America.  The original horses were part of the 500 Austrian Royal Lipizzaner horses rescued by General George Patton at the end of World War II.  Gabby Hermann is the matriarch of the current operation and the original horses were brought to the USA by her father.  The Lipizzaner horse was first bred in Austria in 1565 from Arabian and Andalusian stock.  Six lines were produced and new Arabian and Andalusian stock have been included in the breeding since that time to avoid the negative effects of inbreeding.

Gabby Herman exercises one of the Royal Lipizzaner Stallions in training.  Myakka City, FL.

Gabby Herman exercises one of the Royal Lipizzaner Stallions in training. Myakka City, FL.

Hermann’s has open rehearsals (performances) every Thursday and Friday at 3 PM and Saturday at 10 AM when they are not touring, weather permitting.  These are not “dress rehearsals” as the houses and riders are not fully costumed the way they would be for a show while on tour.  They do, however, put the horses through all of their maneuvers.  The rehearsals take place in an open air arena connected to the nearby stables with a pair of gated fences.  There are bleachers on the two long sides of the arena and visitors also bring lawn chairs and set them up on three sides of the arena.  We arrived around 2:15 PM and there were already people there.  Admission was a $5 “donation” per person, but it was not optional.  It was well worth the price, however, and we made an extra contribution at the end of the show.

We secured good seats in the last row of the one of the bleachers at the top of the stairs with our backs to the sun.  That allowed us an unobstructed view for photography with light from a good direction.  It was a good thing we got there early.  Six fully-loaded tour buses showed up after we got there along with lots of passenger cars.  The bleachers were packed and the lawn chairs were at least two deep around the fence.  After the show we walked over to see the 17 day old colt and walk through the stables.  I took photos and also snapped a few shots of the tour buses after chatting with the driver of a 2016 Prevost H3-45 with a beautiful deep purple paint scheme.  I would sure like to have one of those to convert.

Five stallions work in formation at Hermann’s Royal Lipizzaner Stallions and Spanish American Riding School.  Myakka City, FL.

Five stallions work in formation at Hermann’s Royal Lipizzaner Stallions and Spanish American Riding School. Myakka City, FL.

When we were done at Hermann’s we drove back to Arcadia and stopped at Walgreens before returning to Big Tree Carefree RV Resort.  We spent a little time at Mara’s motorhome so she could walk Linda through the various cat and RV chores that needed to be taken care off during the next week.  With that done we stopped at the mail room.  We had a slip in our mail slot that there was a package for us in the office but it was after 5 PM and the office was closed.  We figured it was the shipment of Nutpods vegan coffee creamer but we would not be able to pick it up until Monday as we would not be around during office hours on Saturday and the office is closed on Sundays.

For dinner Linda made lentil potato burritos using various leftover ingredients that we wanted/needed to use up.  I opened the bottle of Barefoot Moscato wine, using the cork puller that Mara gave us the other night, and we had some for dessert.  We were both tired so we watched some TV, including the first of three episodes of a new Masterpiece Mystery series named Silk about barristers in England.  We did not watch the second episode as we had to be up early in the morning and it was going to end too late.

2016/02/27 (S) Port Miami

We were up at 6:30 AM and left at 7 AM for Dunkin Donuts where we got something to eat and a couple of large half-caffe coffees.  As planned, we were back at Mara’s motorhome at 7:30 AM.  By 7:45 we had Michael, Mara, and their luggage onboard and were on our way to the cruise ship terminals at the Port of Miami some three plus hours distant.

The GPS wanted us to go south on FL-31 but we had already decided we would take FL-70 east to US-27 and then take that south/southeast as far as I-75.  We stopped at a Marathon station in South Bay to use the restrooms and let Mara and Michael get some coffee.  We headed east on I-75 to its end point at MM 0 and then followed whatever roads the GPS told us to use to get to Port Miami.  When we were almost to the Port we deviated from the GPS and took the tunnel under the water to get to the cruise ship terminals rather than exit the highway and use the bridge.  There was some temporary confusion, and minor tension, surrounding this but soon enough we ended up at Terminal F where the MSC Divina was docked.

Traffic was heavy and chaotic, but we found a spot at the curb and got them unloaded.  A quick handshake and a hug and we were on our way.  I never cease to be appalled at the incredibly pour traffic engineering we encounter at major transportation terminals.  We did get a stunning view of the skyscrapers that dominate the downtown Miami skyline, but after a bit of driving around we managed to escape the island via the bridge and I was glad to be clear of the area.

Linda had researched vegan friendly eateries last night and selected one called The Kitchen.  It was near Miami International Airport, not too far from Port Miami, and basically in the direction we needed to travel to return to Arcadia.  She put the address in the GPS and we enjoyed a slow, late Saturday morning, drive through downtown Miami.  We arrived around 11:30 and there were only a couple of other diners there.  As is often the case, it was a slightly funky little place, but it had an entirely vegan menu with lots of interesting options.

The Kitchen is, in fact, the prep facility for a chain of local eateries, and plenty of other customers showed up while we were there.  We had the tacos, which included plantains, and the nachos.  The tacos were good, especially the plantains, but the nachos were outstanding.  Both were made with vegan chorizo sausage.  The nachos had a base of blue corn chips with beans, tomatoes, salsa, and cashew cream.  It was also a big serving.  For dessert we each had a coconut date ball and a gobi berry chocolate brownie.  Yum.  The Kitchen was a bit pricey but most of the ingredients were organic and the food was fresh and very tasty so we felt it was good value for the money.

We left at 12:30 PM and I turned the wrong way leaving the parking lot.  It turned out we were on US-27 headed north so we stayed with that choice.  The GPS wanted to put us on the Interstate/Tollroads but we knew that eventually it would put us back on US-27.  There was a lot of traffic and frequent traffic signals, but we eventually got clear of the developed urban area.  Not too far out we stopped at a roadside park with an airboat operation and switched drivers.  Linda told me later that I napped for about an hour but my experience of the situation was that I nodded off and woke up repeatedly because of neck discomfort.

We got back to our RV resort around 3:45 PM and stopped at the mail room on the way in where I retrieved a box of magazines from BCM.  The 3 PM Mardi Gras parade had just ended but some of the decorated golf carts and masked participants were still hanging around the activity building.  I made a mental note that the Mardi Gras dinner started at 7:30 PM and we returned to our rig.

We turned on our Verizon Mi-Fi and got our local network online.  I opened the box of magazines to see what was inside and e-mailed Gary to let him know what I received.  Linda needed to attend to Mara’s cats, Maui and Sabra, and we both had several updates pending on our iPads and smartphones.  We packed up the iPads and walked to the activity building where I set up our technology in the library while Linda went on to Mara’s Bounder to tend to her cats.

I got both iPads and both smartphones connected to the Internet via the resort Wi-Fi system, which can only be picked up at/near the activity building (which includes the office, lanai, library, dining room/kitchen, card room, and laundry room).  The best reception is outside in front of the building, as the antenna is on the peak of the roof ridge at the front gable, but the reception in the lanai and library is very usable.  There was one other person there using the Wi-Fi but she left shortly after I arrived.

The updates for our iPads took 500 MB and the smartphone updates took at least another 250 MB, so it was at least a 0.75 GB update session.  Our 12 GB monthly Verizon data plan works out to about 0.4 GB per day, on average, so we are trying to do our updates using the park Wi-Fi and save our data plan for web searches, document/photo uploads/downloads, and other work we want and/or need to do from our motorcoach.

While I was updating our devices Linda got a text message from Mara and I was able to watch the latest OK Go video and play a few games.  Kate sent me the link a week ago and I was waiting for a chance to use the resort Wi-Fi when there were few, if any, other users.  I also downloaded the latest issue of The Gypsy Journal digital edition.

When I was done I packed up and walked over to Mara’s rig.  Linda exchanged text messages with Mara.  She and Michael are on the Holistic Holiday at Sea cruise for the first time.  They had finished the opening session with Jessica Porter and Neal Barnhard, M.D. and enjoyed it very much.  They had just sat down to dinner and we’re excited about that too.  We enjoyed their enthusiasm and recalled what it was like for us the first time we went on this cruise.  Linda packed up a few things to bring back to our coach.  Mara made Broccoli salad last night and there was a lot left over that she wanted us to eat.

It cooled off quickly after the sun set and the overnight low was forecast to be 42 degrees F.  We closed up the coach and then had some of Mara’s broccoli salad along with vegan Italian “sausage” for dinner.  We finished the Barefoot Moscato wine, had a few grapes for dessert, and settled in to watch some TV programs on the local PBS channels before going to bed.  We had spent 7 hours driving/riding in the car today and we were tired.

2016/02/28 (N) Cat Care

It was cool in the coach this morning and I stayed in bed, under the covers, with the electric heating pad on, until after 7:30 AM.  The cats were persistent, however, and I finally got up and took care of their needs.  I turned on the Aqua-Hot diesel burner and the zone control thermostats for the bathroom and the kitchen/living area and the electric toe-kick heater for the front of the bus.  Linda got up at 8 AM as I was making coffee.

We had granola for breakfast, after which Linda packed up her laptop computer and gathered up papers related to work she needed to do.  She took the car and drove to Mara’s motorhome to tend to the cats and then work there.  She did not need to be online and figured the cats would appreciate the company, or at least get more accepting her presence and attention if she spent some quiet, extended time there.  I stayed at our rig to catch up on draft blog posts and attend to our cats.

Last week I downloaded the free version of an app called “OfficeSuite (Free) Mobile + PDF” and have been using it to write the drafts of my recent blog posts.  It works at least as well as the native iPad Notes app, better in my opinion (so far), and creates a native docx format Word document.  It also works with various cloud services.  Hypothetically that should save me the steps of e-mailing it to myself, selecting/copying the text from the e-mail, pasting it into a blank Word doc, and then cleaning up all of the junk caused by the Note app, which is considerable (numerous calendar hyperlinks).  I say hypothetically because I have not yet set up or tested the cloud sync feature.  That was on my “to do” list for today.

Around 11:30 AM it was getting warm in the coach under mostly sunny skies.  I opened windows and roof vents and then put out all of the awnings. I continued working on my blog posts from the last four days and was finally ready to upload one of them via a cloud service.  We have a Dropbox account but we also have OneDrive accounts as part of the Windows 10 OS on our notebook computers.  I don’t normally use OneDrive but I thought this would be a good opportunity to try it.

I set up the credentials to allow the app to connect to the OneDrive account attached to my OS login.  I then tried to move or copy the Word docx file for Wednesday’s blog post from “current files” to the OneDrive under Network locations but the OfficeSuites app would not give me the OneDrive account as an option.  I checked the Help screens for information to assist me but could not find anything pertaining to this specific problem.  The app has Pro and Premium upgrades available ($ and $$) but the feature chart indicated that interfacing to all five of the different cloud services was included in the Free version.  Rather than waste time on this I called David Aungier to let him know there was an updated version of his featured bus article in a folder in my Dropbox and then kept working on draft blog posts.

At 1 PM I was getting ready to walk over to Mara’s rig to get the shower supplies from Linda when she returned in the car.  We have been able to avoid removing the cats’ litter box from our shower by using the showers at the building by the swimming pool.  That also keeps the shower water out of our grey water tank, allowing us to go more days between dumps.  I got my towel and the soap from Linda and walked over to the shower house.

When I got back from my shower I trimmed my beard and shaved.  It had probably been at least a month since my last beard trim and I was starting to look a bit scruffy.  All cleaned up and feeling refreshed I dealt with a couple of e-mails and then returned to the issue of getting the OfficeSuites app to sync with one of my cloud services.  It appeared that Dropbox might be the best choice so I established the connection to that account.  Voilà!  I was finally able to copy a local Word file to the folder I had previously set up in my Dropbox for blog post documents.

I proceeded to finish each post in turn and copied it to the Dropbox folder which immediately uploaded it to the cloud server.  I checked my ASUS notebook computer to make sure the document had made it to the local hard drive.  It had, which meant I could move it to where I keep the draft posts and start editing it directly.  This was a big deal for me as I expect it to streamline the blogging process.

As I was working on all of this I realized that I had told Gary at BCM that I would review and comment on an article he had received from Lloyd DeGerald and would try to get it back to him by Sunday evening.  Lloyd is a highly experienced, factory-trained, Webasto / Aqua-Hot service and repair technician and has worked on our Aqua-Hot in the past.  His article was basically a terse service procedure consisting of a numbered list of steps.  There were some things that I was not clear about so I added comments and highlighted them in yellow.  I got the document e-mailed back to Gary, with answers to several questions he had asked, just as Linda was putting dinner on the table.

Dinner was an improvised dish of red beans and rice with onions, garlic, tomatoes, turmeric, and kale.  I added a little extra Tabasco hot sauce to mine and it was a very good dish.  After dinner Linda did the dishes and then we walked over to Mara’s motorhome, by way of the garbage trailer, to tend to the evening cat and rig chores.  Maui stayed out long enough to get up on the hassock and show some interest in me.  I let her smell my hand but when I tried to pet her head she swatted at me.  Too much, too soon.  She played with a cat toy that Linda shook around, ate her dinner, and disappeared into the bedroom.  Sabra stayed out the whole time we were there, ate her dinner, and chased feathers that Linda moved around.

We walked back to our rig before 8 PM and watched a special about the Manners of Downton Abby on PBS.  The overnight low was forecast at 54 degrees F so we closed the roof vents but did not close the coach windows all the way before turning in for the night.

2016/02/29 (M) Bonus Day

Last night was the Academy Awards but we did not watch the show.  We had not seen any of the films and were more interested in a pair of specials on the Manners of Downton Abby about the role of the show’s historical consultant whose job it has been to make sure all of the actors were as authentic as possible in their speech and mannerisms.

We got up this morning between 7:30 and 8 AM, which seems to have become our norm of late unless we have an outing planned that requires an early departure.  We had our usual coffee followed by granola with blueberries for breakfast.  We doodled on our iPads for a bit and I finished my blog post for yesterday and uploaded it to our Dropbox.  Linda noted that today was February 29th.  In a month that is usually two to three days shorter than all the others it was like having a bonus day.  I also enjoy the relative rarity of the event.

At 9:30 AM Linda packed up her computer and papers and walked over to Mara’s motorhome to tend to the cats.  She planned to stay and work a while and was expecting a call from Dave at the bakery around 10 AM.  I finished my coffee, got dressed, and settled in to work at my computer.

When Linda returned we walked to Walmart for a few grocery items before it got too warm outside.  When we got back and had the groceries put away, we reconfigured the back of the car.  After Mara’s arrival, but prior Michael’s arrival, we had reconfigured the back of the car.  We had removed one of the rear seats and put the other rear seat down so Mara could go places with us.  Most of the stuff went back in the car but in order to store the removed seat in the front bay of the bus and make room for some of the stuff from the car we had moved the air compressor and two of the four chassis stands to the passenger side engine bay.

Just prior to Michael’s arrival we reconfigured the back of the car again as we now needed four seats.  To keep our stuff out of sight and protect it from the weather we bought a small tent, set it up behind the bus, and put everything in it.

When Mara and Michael return from the Holistic Holiday at Sea Cruise on Saturday Michael is going to rent a car to and get them back to Arcadia from Miami.  He will be sticking around for another four weeks and they will need a car for most of that time as we are leaving Big Tree Carefree RV Resort a week from today.  So today we put both rear seats back up, emptied out the storage tent, reloaded the car, and repacked the front bay of the bus.

As long as we were working outside I stripped out the bad silicone caulk between the new passenger side lower windshield and the gasket.  I found a different product in one of our parts and supplies tubs and got it out.  I did not apply it, however, as I wanted to let the rubber gasket relax and hopefully reform to the glass.  In retrospect, it is painfully obvious that the Safelite installers did not know what they were doing.

It was a sunny day and by early afternoon the air temperature was 80 degrees F, so we put on our swimming suits and walked over to the pool.  We stopped at the office to retrieve our package of Nutpods non-dairy coffee creamer and put it in the mail room until later.  After a nice soak and vitamin D treatment we showered, changed into dry clothes, and walked back to the mail room to retrieve our Nutpods package and other mail.  Being the last day of the month our electric bill was there along with an invitation to the Michigan reunion lunch scheduled for July 14 in Concord, Michigan.  The Resort does have a strong sense of community, and people take that back to their home states/provinces when the leave.

I had a text message from Kerry Fear requesting payment for snowplowing services for February.  Linda wrote a check and got it ready to mail.

For dinner Linda made stuffed poblano peppers and pan-grilled them.  (We do not travel with an outdoor grill, either propane or charcoal.)  The stuffing was rice, black beans, tomatoes, scallions, vegan sour cream, cumin seeds, and Daiya vegan cheddar cheese.  So good.  We had some Barefoot Riesling wine after dinner and fresh mixed fruit salad (bananas, strawberries, and blueberries) for dessert.  I really like the way we eat.

After dinner we watched our usual PBS news programs followed by our usual CBS entertainment shows.  I stayed up to watch Charlie Rose’s interview with Tim Cook, CEO of Apple, Inc.  I was getting ready for bed and turned on the fresh water pump.  It normally runs briefly to build up pressure and then shuts off.  This time it just kept running.  That meant one of two things: either there was an opening in the system (faucet or leak), or the demand pressure sensor was not working.  I shut it off, put my sweats and Crocs back on, grabbed a flashlight, and went outside to investigate.

It was almost midnight but there was plenty of light from the resort street lamps.  I checked both sides of the utility bay and did not see any sign of a leak other than the small drip from the fill valve packing nut.  I turned on the shore water supply and opened the valves to allow it to flow through the softener to the coach.  Once the lines and softener were filled and pressurized I did not hear any further water flow, so I was somewhat confident that we did not have a leak in the system.  I left the outside water turned on so we could flush the toilet and run water to wash our hands.

Back inside I wrote a sticky note not to turn on the water pump and stuck it on the toilet seat.  Linda woke up right after I finally got to bed so I was able to tell her in person, but the note was still a good reminder.  I watched Tavis Smiley’s interview with Tom Waters of Pink Floyd and then went to sleep. February 2016 had been a very busy, but very satisfying month for us.

 

2016/02/22-24 (M–W) 1 SP, 2 S-A-H

2016/02/22 (M) Myakka River State Park

Our destination today was Myakka River State Park (MRSP).  We agreed yesterday to pick up Mara and Michael at 10 AM.  That allowed us to sleep until 8 AM, have coffee and breakfast at our rig, and take showers before leaving for the day.

MRSP is only 25 miles from Arcadia so we did not stop for fuel or coffee.  We stopped at the visitor center near the main entrance to study the maps and displays before heading deeper into the park.  As on previous visits, our first stop was the bridge over the stretch of the Myakka River that runs south from Upper Myakka Lake to Lower Myakka Lake.  We hiked south along the east edge of the river for quite some distance.  Unlike previous visits we did not see the quantity or diversity of wildlife that we expected.  Absent from our visit today were Wood Storks and Roseate Spoonbills.  We saw alligators, but only one somewhat up close.

We stopped at the Forest Canopy towers and suspension bridge which is one of the special treats of this park.  After that stop we drove to the vendor area on the southeast shore of the Upper Lake to have our picnic lunch.  The parking lot was full but our timing was lucky and we waited as someone backed out and then took that spot.  This area has a boat launch, restaurant, pontoon boat tour, wheeled vehicle train, gift shop, and restrooms.  After lunch we walked out to the weir across the outflow of the Upper Lake, which maintains it at a slightly higher level.  We saw a few more alligators and birds there.

We drove to the end of the road at the north gate and checked out the other picnic area that someone at lunch told us was there.  On the way back we stopped at the Birdwalk, a boardwalk that goes out through a marsh to a point near the eastern edge of the Upper Lake.  We saw a few more alligators from a distance and got a close up view of a couple of birds.

By the time we were done at the Birdwalk it was approaching 4 PM.  We drove slowly back to the Visitor Center to use the restrooms and then exited the park and headed back to Arcadia.  On the way back Linda and Mara decided that, in spite of a nice weather forecast, we would stick around the RV Resort tomorrow and have dinner together.  Not only will that give them time to plan/prepare the meal, it will give us time to do laundry and relax at the swimming pool.  It will also allow me to finish proofreading and correcting articles for BCM.  The forecast for Wednesday has an 80% chance of rain so that was already planned as a stay-at-home day.    My hope is that I will be able to upload the rest of my blog posts for October 2015.  I do not like being this far behind.

For dinner Linda made a dish with vegan Italian sausage on a bed of angel hair pasta with onion, garlic, and broccoli sautéed in EVOO.  Yum, yum.  After dinner I off-loaded the photos I took today.  We then watched the Nightly Business Report and NewsHour on PBS followed by the X-Files and Lucifer on FOX, NCIS Los Angeles on CBS, a few minutes of news and weather, and then Charlie Rose’s interview with Bill Gates on PBS.

So many shades of green.  A view to the south from the observation platform atop the north tower of the Forest Canopy Skywalk.  Myakka River SP, FL.

So many shades of green. A view to the south from the observation platform atop the north tower of the Forest Canopy Skywalk. Myakka River SP, FL.

2016/02/23 (T) Green Taco Wraps

It rained briefly last evening and more rain was forecast starting later this afternoon and extending through-tomorrow.  Today and-tomorrow were planned as stay-at-home (S-A-H) days so we got up just before 8-AM and had coffee, juice, and granola with bananas.  My plan was to take care of our fresh- and waste-water tanks and do the laundry before settling in to work on computer-based tasks.  Linda received a package yesterday of year-end accounting documents from the bakery and planned to work on those today.

The skies had clouded up late yesterday and gotten darker and thicker by sunset.  We had dark clouds to our west this morning and had just finished breakfast (granola, bananas, fruit juice) when it started to rain lightly.  I had no sooner closed the bathroom vent/fan when the rain came down hard.  I closed down the awning style windows until they were only open about an inch at the bottom.  We planned to roll up the patio awning before the rain came today but now had to wait for it to dry off, assuming the rains let up and the sun came out for a while.

We dropped below 1/3rd tank of fresh water yesterday.  When the rain stopped I went out to check the level visually.  It was barely below the 1/3rd sensor so I decided to forego dumping and filling for a couple of more days.  I might even run off the city water for a day or so to push the whole dump/fill/recharge routine off until the weekend.

I moved my laptop computer to the dining table so Linda could on work at hers on the desk.  The accounting work she had to do for the bakery required space to spread out the paperwork she got from Dave (the controller) yesterday.  I decided to just keep editing blog posts from November 2015 in preparation for eventually uploading them.

At 12:45 PM I started sorting the soiled clothes and linens.  Linda quite working on the accounting and made sandwiches for our lunch.  She made a grocery list and then walked to the supermarket.  At 1:30 I loaded the laundry and my iPad into the car and drove over to the laundry room.  By 1:45 I had four washing machines in operation.

I connected my iPad to the Resort’s public Wi-Fi signal at the activity building and connected through to the Internet, which always takes some doing.  The problem is that the various browsers load cached versions of the tabs that are open and I have to go to a new webpage in other to trigger the filter and connect to the Internet.  Until I have done that successfully I cannot check e-mail or update apps.

By 2:25 I had transferred all of the wash to three dryers and started them.  I had six apps with updates available totaling just over 400 MB (0.4 GB) and initiated those.  On our 12 GB Verizon data plan that is more than a whole day’s average data usage for a typical month (0.4 x 30 = 12.0).  I also noticed that I had two new updates for apps on my phone but when I looked more carefully I discovered that I had 22 app updates pending.  I had been deferring them until I could use the resort (or other) free Wi-Fi.  When the last iPad app update downloaded and installed I connected my phone to the Resort Wi-Fi and initiated the app updates.

I worked on the draft of today’s blog post and played a few games until the laundry was dry and then folded it and put it in the car.  It was 4 PM at that point and only 10 of the 22 apps had updated, so I pulled the car around in front of the activity building with a clear, short path to the antenna on the roof.  I had a much stronger signal in that location and the updates progressed much more quickly.  23 apps were updated and the process finished at 4:18 PM.  I noticed that my phone had somehow gotten set to show Homestead, Florida as my “home” location so I enabled Location Services, changed it to Arcadia, Florida, and then disabled Location Services.  I checked to see if we had any snail mail and then drove back to our coach and put the clean laundry away.

When I got back to our coach Linda was cooking her part of this evening’s meal.  We would be dining with Mara and Michael at Mara’s rig having “green taco wraps.”  Linda made a crumbled meat substitute from brown lentils, walnuts, sautéed onions, and peppers.  She also supplied the tortillas, lettuce, and vegan sour cream.  Mara made salsa and avocado cream and a side salad with cauliflower, tomatoes, and lemon juice.  We brought a bottle of Chardonnay and Mara had a bottle of Spanish Rioja, a very dry red wine.

We walked over with our contributions just before 6 PM and were greeted by Michael.  Mara had walked to Walmart for some tomatoes and other last minute items and returned not long after we arrived.  Good wine, good food, and good friends made for a great meal.  We were still there at 8 PM and it turned out that we like to watch the same TV programs, so we all watched NCIS.  Linda and I walked back to our coach when the show ended and watched NCISNOLA and Limitless before going to bed.  I watched most of Charlie Rose before falling asleep.

An Egret tries to swallow a fish that it caught near the Myakka River.  Myakka River SP, FL.

An Egret tries to swallow a fish that it caught near the Myakka River. Myakka River SP, FL.

2016/02/24 (W) Another Tornado Warning

Today was planned as a stay-at-home day.  The forecast was for wind and rain with a marginal risk of severe weather.  I was up a little before 7:30 AM and thought about going to the Wednesday coffee “social” but decided against it.  I began preparing our morning coffee but waited until Linda was awake to grind the beans and finish the process.  Linda got our Verizon Mi-Fi and Wi-Fi Ranger online and checked the current weather, which we compared to what was being reported on the local TV news.  Wind and rain were expected in our part of southwest Florida by 10 AM and the Wundermap app radar showed a large storm front drooped from southwest to northeast in advance of a cold front and moving our way.

I finished my first cup of coffee and then went outside and put up the two window awnings on the driver side of our coach.  While I was out there I drained the auxiliary air filter / water separator and stored the two folding bag chairs in the front bay.

We had granola and blueberries for breakfast and it started raining while we finished our coffee.  We both had computer-based work to do today but Linda needed to update some things first.  The rain stopped, at least temporarily, so we packed up our mobile technology and drove over to the activity building to use the RV resort’s public Wi-Fi system.

We set up our tech toys in the library and connected them to the resort’s public Wi-Fi system; two laptop computers, two iPads, and two smartphones.  I had three app updates on my phone and Linda had 14.  She had eight app updates on her iPad and I had one OS-related update on my computer.  Linda downloaded a new audio book.  I downloaded/installed the OfficeSuites Free – Mobile + PDF app on my iPad and the 2016 U. S. RVers Edition (PDF) of The Mobile Internet Handbook by Chris Dunphy and Cherie Ve Ard from the Mobile Internet Aficionados membership website.  We also checked our e-mail while we were there.  Between our six devices we greatly exceeded our average daily data allocation of 0.4 GB that our 10+2 GB Verizon data plan provides.  Our normal 10 GB plan averages out to about 0.3 GB per day, and it is not sufficient for our needs when traveling in the motorcoach.

As we were packing up at 1:30 PM to return to our coach the skies opened up and heavy rains poured forth.  Moments later both of our phones notified us that a tornado warning was in effect for our location until 2 PM.  Our car was parked near the front door of the activity building so we decided not to wait for a lull in the rain.  It was raining even harder by the time we got back to our coach but we had our technology in ballistic nylon travel bags and got them inside without getting them wet.

Linda set up her computer on the desk and I set up mine on the dining room table.  We did not need to be online so we left the Verizon Mi-Fi turned off.  Linda worked on accounting for the bakery while I proofread and annotated corrections for two BCM articles.  When she was done for today I moved my computer to the desk, plugged in the power supply, and spent some time reading and responding to e-mails.

By 3 PM the severe weather threat had passed but densely overcast skies continued with occasional lighter rain.  All of this was, once again, in advance of a cold front that will bring high temperatures only in the upper 60’s for the next four to five days.

For dinner Linda improvised a sauté of onion, garlic, kale, and turmeric with boiled red potatoes.  It was a hardy dish; perfect for a cool, dreary evening.  We watched a PBS Nature episode on Emperor Penguins, a Nova episode on rescue robots, and another program on Big Data.  We then went to bed as we had to be up early in the morning.

 

2016/02/21 (N) Punta Gorda

Our destination today was Punta Gorda.  We arranged last night to pick up Mara and Michael at 9 AM and stop at Dunkin Donuts for coffee and something to eat.  As a result we slept in a bit and did not make coffee or have breakfast.  I stopped at the Shell Station to top off the fuel tank and then pulled into the DD next door.  Coffee and food in hand we headed to downtown Arcadia on FL-70 and then headed south on US-17 to Punta Gorda.

Michael, Mara, and Linda at the historic 1928 train station in Punta Gorda, FL.

Michael, Mara, and Linda at the historic 1928 train station in Punta Gorda, FL.

Mara had researched things to see and do and entered them into the “Map My Plans” app on her iPad.  The app can arrange them in the best order (shortest driving distance) to visit.  Our first stop was an historic train station from 1928 that is now a local history museum.  It was closed on Sunday’s, but we got to see the outside.  Our next stop was an open air arts and crafts market near the Convention Center.  We saw this market last month, when we visited the Woodcarvers Expo at the Convention Center, and it was there again today so we stopped.  Mara bought some earrings and Linda bought an apron.  There was also a husband-wife guitar group playing some very interesting original music that seemed to be of derivative Spanish influence.  They were selling CDs, and I am always tempted to buy one from groups like this as I would likely never find them anywhere else again.  But I didn’t.

This is the front of the historic 1928 train station.  Punta Gorda, FL.

This is the front of the historic 1928 train station. Punta Gorda, FL.

From the arts and crafts market we drove to the farmers’ market.  We also visited this market in January and really liked it.  The same vendors were there so we were able to buy some more Miatake mushrooms and some Sweet Hot pickles.  Linda also bought a selection of fruits and vegetables.

Linda looks over the fruits and vegetables at the Punta Gorda farmers market.

Linda looks over the fruits and vegetables at the Punta Gorda farmers market.

From the farmers market we drove to Ponce de Leon Park and visited the Peace River Wildlife Refuge.  This was also our second visit to this facility, which has an interesting collection of injured birds who are at least living out their lives in comfort and safety.

The front end of a vintage Lincoln at the Muscle Car Museum in Punta Gorda, FL.  Most of the cars were General Motors products.

The front end of a vintage Lincoln at the Muscle Car Museum in Punta Gorda, FL. Most of the cars were General Motors products.

After our visit to the refuge we drove to an alligator preserve but it was closed.  We back-tracked a short distance to the Muscle Car Museum.  Though not free, we paid the nominal admission charge and spent a couple hours examining a very large and very nice collection of Chevy cars and trucks.  Among others they had a couple of 1957 Belairs and a couple of 1967 Cameros.

 

 

 Bruce standing by a red 1957 Chevy Belair.  He had one very similar to this when he was in high school.  Muscle Car Museum, Punta Gorda, FL.

Bruce standing by a red 1957 Chevy Belair. He had one very similar to this when he was in high school. Muscle Car Museum, Punta Gorda, FL.

Neither of us are particularly nostalgic about our youth, or any other part of our past for that matter, but I had a 1957 Belair my last three years in high school (in the late 60s) that I customized.  It was not a muscle car but it was candy apple red and it was mine.  Linda’s first car after she graduated from high school and started working was a 1967 Camero.  It was a white convertible with a red interior and a 327 cubic inch V8 under the hood.  It had an automatic transmission, and was not a muscle car, but it was powerful and we took it to from St. Louis, Missouri to Colorado and back on our two-week camping honeymoon right after we got married.

Linda standing by a white 1967 Chevy Camero.  It was similar to the one she owned except that hers was a convertible and had a red interior.  Muscle Car Museum, Punta Gorda, FL.

Linda standing by a white 1967 Chevy Camero. It was similar to the one she owned except that hers was a convertible and had a red interior. Muscle Car Museum, Punta Gorda, FL.

We discussed finding a restaurant in Punta Gorda for linner but Mara and Linda did not turn up anything promising.  I set the GPS and started back to our RV resort.  In less than an hour we were back and dropped Mara and Michael at her rig before returning to ours.

Back at the coach we turned on our Verizon Mi-Fi and checked our e-mail.  Gary had sent the first draft of the April 2016 issue of Bus Conversion Magazine for me to proofread.  I went through my featured bus article on Ronnie and Diann Mewbourn’s 1969 Model 07 Eagle conversion and started annotating corrections.  I will need to go through it again with the original open for comparison but I was too tired to do that today.

For dinner Linda sautéed the Miatake mushrooms in EVOO with garlic, onion, and Egri Merlot.  She also cooked a spaghetti squash, set out some black grapes, and poured out the remainder of the Merlot, which was left over from last night’s dinner.  This was only the second time we have had Miatake mushrooms and it is difficult to describe in words how exquisitely good they are in terms of taste, texture, sight, and smell.  We agreed that they were the best mushrooms we have ever had.

After dinner I connected the Sony a99v-DSLT to my computer and off-loaded the 105 pictures I took today.  I looked through them quickly but did not see anything that I thought would make a good postcard for Madeline.  My computer seemed to be working again so I backed up photos, blog posts, BCM files, and other files to our NAS.  I tried to access the Backup and Security components in Windows 10 and it appeared they had been restored to proper operation.  I checked for updates and the system said it was up-to-date.  ES|ET Smart Security is still telling me I have 17 updates and most of them appear to be drivers related to the computer hardware and low level system functions.  I need to contact ES|ET and ask them about what this actually means and how to resolve it.

We were going to walk over after dinner and visit with Mara and Michael but all four of us were tired and took a pass.  We watched Father Brown on PBS, the Simpsons and something else on FOX, and then Downton Abbey on PBS.  Linda headed off to bed after Downton Abbey and I watched the end of CSI: Cyber.

 

2016/02/12-15 (F–M) Everglades Update

2016/02/12 (F) Full Circle

We got up, showered, got dressed, and went down to breakfast around 8 AM.  We were packed, checked out, and had the car loaded by 9 AM.  We headed north on the Ronald Reagan Turnpike, exited at some miles later, and headed west.  FL-94 ended at FL-997 where we headed north.  In looking at a map later, we would probably have been better off to get on FL-997 right from the hotel.  There was major road construction on FL-997 all the way to US-41, but traffic moved along at the 50 MPH posted speed limit.

At US-41 we headed west.  This is Miccosukee Indian territory, as indicated by the Miccosukee Resort and Gaming facility (Casino) at the NW corner of Fl-997 and US-41.  A short way to the west this stretch of US-41 (the Tamiami Highway between Tampa and Miami) is bordered by Everglades National Park on the south and the Francis S. Taylor Wildlife Management Area on the north.  It eventually leaves both of these and runs through the heart of the Big Cypress National Preserve.

We pulled in to the ENP entrance for the Shark Valley Visitor Center and immediately and got stuck in the line of cars waiting to get in.  The parking lot had filled a few cars ahead of us and it was now a one car out, one car in situation.

Once we were in we checked out the tram ride to the Shark Valley Observatory Tower seven miles one way due south into the Everglades.  It was a two (2) hour narrated round-trip and cost $24 per person ($19 for seniors).  You can hike or bike out to the tower for free (after gaining admission to the NP).  We did not have that much time so we walked part way down the road along an open channel of water about 15 feet wide and found lots of wildlife photo opportunities, including birds, a large turtle, and alligators.  The most interesting thing we saw was a cluster of at least a dozen young alligators, ranging from one to two feet in length, piled up on top of one another.

A little farther west we left US-41 and drove a small 2-lane road for 38 miles.  The first half was paved and the second half was good gravel.  It was a lovely, slow drive with a maximum speed limit of 30 MPH and a few nature photo opportunities along the way.

A Black Vulture near the Shark Valley Visitor Center, Everglades NP, FL.

A Black Vulture near the Shark Valley Visitor Center, Everglades NP, FL.

After rejoining US-41 we continued west through the Big Cypress National Preserve as far as FL-29 with Everglades NP once again on our left.  We then headed south through Everglades City and re-entered the park.  The Gulf Coast Visitor Center was very small and did not have the ENP shirts we had seen at the Flamingo Visitor Center and were now hoping to buy.  The vendor operated gift store did not have them either.  The only things you can do from this point in the park are explore the NW coastal portions by canoe, kayak, or pontoon boat.  We did not have time for any of that on this quick visit so we pulled up the address for our RV park in the GPS unit and pushed on.

We had a better look at Everglades City on the way out of town and decided that it was an interesting looking little place.  A traveling carnival of some considerable size was setting up in the middle of town, literally.

Back at US-41 we continued west as we were still somewhat east of the north-south line through Arcadia.  The only other route home from here would take us north on FL-29 and then back east on I-75 and eventually back through LaBelle and up the west side of Lake Okeechobee.  That would be a much longer trip and it was already starting to feel like it had been a long day.

We left US-41 at Collier Blvd. and traveled north about seven miles to I-75 north.  Traffic was heavy, congested, and stop-n-go initially but eventually freed up.  We traveled about 39 miles to exit 141 at Ft. Myers and headed east a few miles to FL-31.  Our final 38 miles were straight north to Arcadia where FL-31 ends at FL-70 just west of our RV resort.

From the Shell station in Arcadia on Tuesday morning to our coach at 5:45 PM today we put 919.4 miles on the car’s trip odometer.  The speedometer on the car reads slightly high, probably because the tires are not factory original specifications, so our actual mileage may have been slightly less by about one mile for every 60 miles traveled.  That would be approximately 15 miles for our trip, making the actual mileage perhaps 905 for the four days, for an average of 225 to 230 miles per day.  That’s a lot of driving, but the purpose of our trip was to get a first glimpse at a lot of south Florida that we had not seen before.

We brought a few things in from the car, spent some time with our cats, and then visited with Ron and Vera (who did not even realize we were gone), before walking over to Mara’ rig for dinner.  Mara made a pot of vegan chili and a wonderful salad which we enjoyed with a glass of her favorite Malbec.  We talked about our trip, how the kitties did in our absence, and discussed the logistics of Michael’s upcoming visit.  We returned to our coach around 9:15 PM, finished unloading the car, unpacked a few things, adored our cats, and relaxed with our iPads for an hour before going to bed.

2016/02/13 (S) Yard Sale

I was up at 7:30 AM, partially prepped the coffee, and then unpacked clothes and hung them up or put them in the laundry hamper.  Linda got up sometime after, after which I ground the coffee beans and finished making our morning coffee.

We noticed last night that a few folks had things sitting out in their front yards suggestive of a garage sale.  This morning there was quite a bit of commotion outside and we noticed several yards just from our rig with lots of stuff sitting out on tables and/or the ground.  Clearly Big Tree Carefree RV Resort was having an official yard sale event today.

We had granola for breakfast and then strolled through the resort.  Based on one comment we overheard we got the impression that the yard sale might have started yesterday but there was still lots of stuff available.  We are not yard sale people, as a rule, and our real destination was the laundry room.  Most of the parking spaces were taken but the room was empty and none of the machines were in use.  We walked back to our coach, loaded our laundry, computers, and iPads in the car, and drove over to the laundry room.

I got the laundry into a washing machine while Linda got her computer going and connected to the park Wi-Fi system.  I then started my computer and got online.  Her computer screen came up dark.  It has done this many times in the past, but not recently.  We think it may be related to the battery, but we are not sure.

Our main reason for bringing our computers over was to download our e-mails from the last four days.  BCM, in particular, has a habit of sending me large files as e-mail attachments or links to large files in a Dropbox, which I prefer.  I had at least 118 e-mails but no large attachments.  I did not get a count from Linda.  Both of our computers are also set up to automatically sync our Dropbox account, and one of the things it does is automatically backup four WordPress websites.  We only had 2.5 GB of data left on our Verizon account to get us through February 19th, so we wanted to transfer as much data as possible via the park Wi-Fi system.

Once the laundry was dry, folded, and hung, we returned to our coach where Linda put on her swimsuit and then joined Mara at the pool.  After putting the clean clothes away I rebooted and reconnected our computers and iPads to our local network and turned on the NAS.  Once everything was up and running I connected the camera and off-loaded all of the photos from the last four days; just over 400 total.  I got a bite to eat and then put on my swimsuit, gathered up my towel and a pair of dry shorts, and went over to the pool to join the ladies.

BP20160212_01732_400x300

A Purple Gallinule near the Shark Valley Visitors Center, Everglades NP, FL.

When I arrived Linda and Mara were sunbathing.  The pool was cool even though it is heated but once I was in and swimming gently I generated enough heat from muscle activity to be comfortable.  I swam for about 1/2 hour and then sat in the hot tub with the whirlpool turned on and positioned myself to vigorously message my lower back.  Linda had taken the soap when she went so I took that along with my towel and shorts and used to shower to rinse off the chlorine and get cleaned up.  I returned the soap to Linda and walked back to our coach.

I doodled on my iPad while Linda read a book when she returned to the coach.  She left at 4 PM to walk to the grocery store with Mara while I laid down on the sofa to take a nap and Jasper curled up next to me.  I was aware of Linda’s return, gradually woke up, and finally got up.

Linda invited Mara to come for dinner.  While she busied herself with the preparations, I went through all of the photos from our trip to Everglades National Park and Key West and backed them up to our NAS.

While I was looking at photos ESET Smart Security kept popping up messages letting me know that it needed my attention.  I opened it and it presented me with a loooong list of critical and recommended updates.  Given our data situation this month I deferred those until I can take my computer back to the office/laundry/activity building and use the resort Wi-Fi system.

For dinner Linda made a nice green salad and a “pasta” dish using an edamame and mung bean fettuccine style noodle.  Mara came to our coach around 6:45 PM and brought a vegan chocolate mousse for dessert.  It was based on blended avocados and it was a delicious finale to a scrumptious meal.  There was a nice orange glow in the western sky but it was too dark by then to eat outside.  It was also getting chilly following sunset so we ate inside and polished off a bottle of Barefoot Pinot Grigio between the three of us.

Mara left a little before 9 PM and we turned on the TV to see if anything interesting was on.  One of the PBS stations was showing a three part drama titled Arthur & George based on a true life event in the life of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and starting Martin Clunes (Doc Martin) as Doyle.  Linda went to bed part way through the third episode but I stayed up to watch it as it was very well done.  I flipped channels for a while after that but nothing else held my attention and I finally went to bed sometime after midnight.

2016/02/14 (N) Valentine’s Day

We were still tired from out whirlwind trip to south Florida and slept in this morning.  When we finally got up Linda made pancakes for breakfast, this being Sunday and all.

It’s a good thing we have our 2 GB of bonus data for the next couple of billing cycles.  Between the Windows 10 upgrade on two computers (most of which we did using the RV resort Wi-Fi), the upgrades to the iOS on both iPads, the inevitable updates to applications on all four devices, and quite a bit of work on BCM articles as well as our personal website/blog, we have had to monitor/manage our data usage very carefully for the January 20 through February 19 billing cycle.  Even with being gone for four days to the Everglades and Keys, and taking our devices to the activity building to use the Wi-Fi, we will be very close to our limit by this Friday, which is the 19th.

There are at least eight alligators in this image and several more outside the frame.  Shark Valley Visitors Center, Everglades NP, FL.

There are at least eight alligators in this image and several more outside the frame. Shark Valley Visitors Center, Everglades NP, FL.

My computer was indicating that I had 22 updates available which meant that Linda’s computer probably had a si