Sushi and a proposal

28 March 2015

Tonight was a day of doing boat chores, Susan making a really cool cloth book for the grand-baby, and waiting for Fed-Ex to come and pick up a package. It was a nice day, the rain last night cooled the day down to the low 70′s. Very nice!!

Dinner was at Katana Japanese Restaurant in North Beach Miami. It’s a tiny “hole-in-the-wall” place. Down the center is a U-shaped serving station that has a water filled moat that has little 18” long boats. Each boat floats by with a different plate of food on it. Choices were different kinds of sushi rolls, steamed and fried dumplings, different sashimi, salads, etc.

You decide what you want and pull the plate off the boat. Each plate has a different color and price associated with it. Some items were hard to tell what they were, but we asked questions and figured things out. We were able to get lots of our favorites.

You can also order off the menu, so we got Pork Tonkatsu and Tempura Veggies. That and 8 different kinds of sushi and dumplings came to $40. It was a lot of fun and we had a great time. I was glad Susan made us get there when they opened, we found great seats next to the sushi chef and was entertained by how fast he could make rolls. The rest of the seats filled quickly and when we left there was a wait outside.

Sitting next to Susan was a young couple. When the woman got up I noticed the man hand the waiter a small box. In a few minutes she came back and a moment later a diamond ring in a box went floating past us. He says “Do you see anything else?” She looks at the boats, sees the ring and her mouth drops open. He pulls the plate off, snags the ring and proposed to her. It was a very magical and romantic moment. And she did say yes!


Pelican Harbor, Miami FL

24 March 2014

The overnight winds had calmed down, they were less than 5kts when we got ready to leave. At 8:30 AM we could see that it was going to be a very nice day.

We headed north and admired the growing Miami Skyline. At the northern end of the Biscayne Bay we entered into Miami. Off to the fart right is Miami Beach, connected to the mainland by a series of causeways.

We take a short detour into the Miami Marine Stadium. It was built years and years ago to be able to watch boat races, ski shows, etc. It’s now in disrepair and is primarily a free anchoring location. It has an amazing view of the Miami skyline, at night it is pretty amazing.

While turning around I noticed that the boat was acting weird, it wasn’t really turning like it should. I wrote it off to tides and currents and was able to keep on going.

In this section of the ICW there are a ton of low bridges that need to get opened. Some open on the ½ hours, some open on request (never, ever use the word demand with a bridge operator). When we got to the West Venetian Bridge, it was closed for repairs. So we went east down the canal to the East bridge. On the way we saw a cool floating bouncy house, it looked like it was part of a park.

Lots of boats, some expensive, some cheap and some derelicts. I can see how boaters can get upset by having an abandoned boat next to them. It’s hard to track the owners down to make them move them. When we were in Tavernier we heard that a common problem is the owner died and there isn’t really anyone that owns the boat.

When we got to the dock at Pelican Harbor Marina, I had a tough time backing in. It felt really weird and unresponsive.

While I was up at the marina office checking us in, Susan took a gopro video. Our starboard prop was gone! The shaft had broken just past the cutlass bearing!

I was able to get a local diver that came, and confirmed the shaft was broken and gave me some local places to try to get it repaired.

Looks like we will be here for awhile.


Boca Chita Key, FL

23 March 2015
Day 233 on the Loop

We talked about it, posted about it, thought about it but today we released our earthly (watery?) bounds and slipped like a ninja from Mangrove Marina.

Well that is after lifting the dink to powerwash it, load 110 gals of fuel, load water, pump and backwash the holding tank and pay the last set of bills.

People came and hugged Susan bye-bye and since I was such a grubby mess did that “eye hug thing” that transmits zero germs. Going to miss these guys.

And with that we are off in dead calm water heading along the ICW. We clear the 300 dock and Susan blows one last conch blast to bid adieu.

We cruised up the ICW, through the mangrove cuts, the cuts through the coral reefs and about 3PM end up at Sands Key in Biscayne Bay. Weather says “10 knots”, and we tried three times to anchor in the actual 15-17 knot winds. Thin sand over coral was a failure.

The fine white sand wasn’t holding us at all So rather that become a strip miner we headed to Boca Chita Key National park. The crew of our Tavernier slipmates on “Shady Lady” had recommended it. So we did the change in plans (Always have a plan B) and we motored in.

It’s a very nice, very well protected basin. We found a spot on the wall and Susan’s resurrected docking skills had us along side in moments.

A docked gold looper “Shingebiss” said that it’s a popular Miami destination, but many loopers don’t know about it. Worked out well for us, Shady Lady arrived and we had docktails. Susan blew the sunset horn that was answered by a nearby boat.

For a place to go for overnight or day its great. Nice docks, bath houses, beaches, etc. to make the day fly by.

Dinner was classic Susan snack dinner with rolled meats, cheese, fruit, etc. Before dinner she got some quality lounge chair time with her book and that made her happy.

If you are slow looping, this is like being at Snailshell, but lots warmer. I’m able to access the net via the hotspot. It’s a little slow, but it does work.

Farewell Tavernier!

22 March 2015

It’s time to say farewell to Tavernier, FL. Mangrove Marina has been our home for the last 104 days, and it’s been wonderful. We are on the 300 dock, “Caicos” with 14 other “live-aboard” and another 6-8 transients.

We got here by a fluke. I had waited too long to get us a slip in Marathon and was able to snag a slip here. It’s turned out well, there is almost everything we need within bike or walking distance. There are on the dock pump-outs, so we’ve not needed to move the boat since we got here.

But it’s not the facilities or location that makes this great, it’s all the truly wonderful people that live here. Every night there is someone at docktails, lots of times it’s a mix of people that live here and ones that used to live here. We’ve shared drinks, snacks, great smoked meats, 100′s of rounds of the game cornhole, potluck dinners, a chili contest, catching lobsters from the dock, and have been serenaded by the only marching conch band in the Keys most evenings. Susan’s been a member since January.

Granted, we’ve been gone about 35 of the days the boat was docked, but there was always something going on for the other 60. And that has made it a lot of fun. It’s cool to watch the Superbowl outside wearing shorts. Lots of great sunrises and sunsets. Mom and a juvenile manatee gliding around the boats. Funny stories, bad puns and lots of tall tales.

I missed my three month estimate on how long we would be here by two weeks. I’d love to stay longer, but if we did, I wouldn’t want to leave. We have a grand-baby that’s growing up too fast. So we are off on Monday and start the 1200 mile trip home. You should start seeing a return to almost daily blog posts.

Speaking of posts, Susan has spent the last few days working on videos and pictures, so there should be new things to watch.

Farewell our friends in Tavernier, thanks for making our stay so great! Everytime I see a rainbow I’ll think of all of you.


Loopers on the move

14 March 2015

March is the start of the Looper season. We are at here at Mangrove Marina at Tavernier Florida. For awhile we’ve been the only loopers, in the last two weeks we’ve seen loopers heading from either Key West or Marathon northward. Some of the Loopers from the Western part of Florida are starting to come down and around.

Last week our friends on Serenity were here and tonight the crew of Midas’s Touch arrived for day to resupply.

Our friends on Lake Effect have gone for a few days to see some more of Florida and they will be back to head north.

We will also soon be on our way, this weekend will be the equinox so there will be more daylight than dark, that will make travel easier.

I’ve noticed that the winds are dropping and they weather is starting to get warmer here in Florida. There is snow coming for the Upper Bay this weekend, so there isn’t a need to hurry.

We are starting to pick up on our projects to get the Quo Vadimus back into sailing trim.


Happy Pi Day!

3/14/15 9:26:53

Engineers love March 14, since the digits represent the value of Pi. We use Pi in all sorts of calculations here on the boat and for the robotics things that I build.

There are lots of radio calculations that use Pi, without Pi your cell phone (or marine VHF radio) wouldn’t work. Don’t even think about trying to get a GPS position without using Pi.

This year is special 3 / 14 / 15 is the first part of Pi: 3.1415 and this morning is a few extra digits to give you 3.141592653. For most things 4 decimal places (3.1415) lets us gauge things like the circumference of the earth to a few miles. The more precise 3.141592 gets you to within a mile of the moon. 3.141592653 puts you right on Mars.

So remember anything that is engineered most likely had Pi as part of it engineering math!

Happy Pi day (and feel free to celebrate by having a slice of Key Lime!)


Cruising – The Behind The Scenes Tour – Part 1 – Engineering and Navigation

9 March 2015

One of the things I try to do any place we go is get a behind the scenes tour. I’m fascinated with the logistics on how things happen.

Cruise boats are huge floating hotels. So on top of all of the guest needs of food and lodging, the boat needs to move everyone around. I think the most interesting aspect is the need to be self contained. 2,200 guests and 900 crew on the Nieuw Amsterdam go through a lot of food and drink, create tons of waste and use Megawatts of electricity.

I was able to get into the behind the scenes tour, there were only four of us in our group. The tour was across two days. The bridge and engineering operations is restricted to crew only while underway. So we did those two parts on Day 5, while we were in port on St. Thomas.

The Nieuw Amsterdam is a Class S boat, it’s pretty much all electric. There are 7 diesel powered generators that can be brought on and off-line as needed. With almost everything being electric from the main drive engines to all of the room HVAC it’s a sensible way to try to do power management. The generators are different sizes so they do a mix and match so they are generating what they need.

I found it interesting that they use commercial voltages (11K, 7.2K, 600, 220, 115) volts in their systems. This allows them to use COTS systems vs more expensive marine specific systems.

The first day was an in-port day. They don’t allow non-bridge or non-engineering people in restricted spaces while the ship is moving. Our first stop was the primary engineering control room.

There is a center C shaped console that has about 8 computer screens. It faces a schematic of all the boat systems with standard gauges and indicator lights. Systems are controlled via the computer systems. The displays and applications run on WindowsXP systems (boat was designed in 2005) and communicate on a closed, redundant ethernet network.

There are video cameras all over the mechanical spaces so they can check on what is going on. So we got a tour of the mechanical systems without leaving the control room. They were working on one of the Diesel engines, we were able to see the workmen removing one of the broken studs.

Since the ship is in constant use, they take systems off line on a regular basis to do maintenance. For example pretty much there is one motor / generator system down at any one time. The ship goes into drydock for a month every two years, that is when the underwater equipment is overhauled.

Next stop was the bridge. The Captain was out at a dental appointment, so the Staff Captain (second Captain) gave our tour. The bridge is on the 8th deck above water (ship is 11 decks total) so it has a pretty good view of what is going on. There are some blind spots, there are cameras to give a view and while docking they are manned by crew on radios.

On each side of the bridge are wings that stick out about 20′. In the wing floor is a glass section that lets the pilot look down at the dock. With the 360 degree propellers and the bow thrusters the ship can actually move sideways into position. To dock they line up with marks on the pier. They then move into the dock until the mark is directly below the wing floor window. This lets them know that the ship is in the exact position (+/- 1 meter).

The propeller controls are fancy joysticks that let them position each one independently of the other. There is a GPS system that is attached so they can “hover” in position. They use this system at places like Half Moon Cay rather than trying to anchor. When the boat is underway and the drive pods are synchronized together, there is a small wheel at the center of the bridge that the helmsman uses to steer the boat.

Both wings have the same set of controls so docking from either side is possible. They both also have full radio systems to talk to the teams that are taking care of the lines. As do smaller boats they use a set of fore and aft lines (3-4 each) and fore and aft spring lines (2) to keep them on the dock.

Moving across the bridge the next station is a full communications station with HF, VHF and satphone coverage. There is also a telex machine that isn’t used (it’s there as a backup) since written communications come in via email.

Next is the GPS position setup. There are receivers on both ends of the boat so they know exactly where the boat is. The positioning systems are fully redundant. This area also does the AIS tracking and has the ability to overlay the ships radar information.

A little farther on is the ships wheel and the primary course plotter. They have a number of different modes they can use. The helmsman can drive the boat of course, but they mostly use the autopilot. One autopilot mode is similar to what I have on the Quo Vadimus, it will steer a set heading. They have one that will follow either a plotted course (making all the turns) or their favorite just follow the course we actually did last time.

Past the ships wheel is what would have been the paper chart station. The surface has been replaced by a 51″ touch screen monitor. From this location they can pull up the course, any engineering info, weather, etc.

Along the wall at this location is a series of high stools, one of them is marked with the Captain stripes. This is where the bridge officers sit when they are on the bridge. Next to the stools is a old style engine control (big brass stand with two levers that move in a circle) as an homage to “the way it used to be done”.

The last station is an engineering station that is used to monitor for leaks, but to also move water around to adjust the trim of the ship. For example if there is wind pushing on the port side causing the ship to list to starboard, they can move water to the port side tanks to stand the boat back up.

We are now at the starboard side wing having walked the width of the ship.

Aft of the helm is a room that has all of the fire control / water tight door system management. This is a combination of indicator lights in a schematic diagram of the ship and computer monitors.

Behind the fire control is the Captains office and quarters, so he is just steps away from the bridge if something happens.

Stay tuned for parts two and three!


Cruising – Home at Last

8 March 2015

We docked in Ft Lauderdale and our “vacation from our vacation” is over. In two weeks we traveled 4033 miles, 375 miles more than we’ve done on the loop.

Ft Lauderdale → Half Moon Cay – 275 miles at 18 kts
Half Moon Cay → Grand Turk – 332 miles at 19.2 kts
Grand Turk → San Juan – 354 miles at 18.2 kts
San Juan → St. Thomas – 72 miles at 9.7 kts
St. Thomas → Ft Lauderdale – 975 miles at 15.9 kts
Week 2
Ft. Lauderdale → Half Moon Cay – 275 miles at 18 kts
Half Moon Cay → Grand Cayman – 728 miles at 18.5 kts
Grand Cayman → Costa Maya – 360 miles at 19.7 kts
Costa Maya –> Key West – 483 miles at 13.3 kts
Key West → Ft Lauderdale – 179 miles at 16.7 kts

Grand total 4033 miles. 6 of the 14 days the winds were 20+ knots, one day it was 25kts with gusts to 35. Happy to be on a much bigger boat! I’m also happy I’m not paying the fuel bill, they average 85 gallons per mile (that’s 0.012 MPG we get 1.2 miles to the gallon, a big difference). Burn was about 343,000 gallons or about $1.1 million for the trip. The Quo Vadimus could make it around the world 9 times on that amount of fuel.

We took a shuttle to the airport and then picked up the Keys Shuttle bus and about 3PM we were back on our boat. Super happy about how much fun the trip is, but we both face a mound of laundry to do. We are both pretty tired, it’s hard to do all that touring around.

We will rest up the next two weeks and then head out around the 21st.


Cruising Day 14 – Key West, FL

7 March 2015

We had been to Key West the first week in Jauary with Dave and Mike. We had done the whirl-wind tour. We missed some of the sites so we’ll try to pick them back up.

It’s a short day, we dock at 8, need to deal with US Customs to get off the boat, so I expect that it won’t be a fun morning. Need to be back on the boat by 4:30, so that makes it a short day ashore.

Once we get into cell range it will be time to use our hotspot. Internet on the boat is $0.79 a minute rounded up to the next nearest clock minute. So start at 11:52:55 and go to 11:54:10 seconds and that is 3 minutes. Super expensive, so waiting for the hotspot to start working makes sense.

After clearing a backlog of mail away we are all set for the day.

It was a surprise getting through US Customs, they just glanced at our passports, all in all about a 2 minute wait.

First stop was to get onto the Conch train for a ride through Key West. It is an off and on tour, but the time to the first stop is about 45 mins an you end up about two blocks away from where you started. But we did get a good tour and were able to figure out where we wanted to go.

It was a good move that we got pictures at the southern most point of the US when we were here with Mike and Dave. Today it’s blocked off for some event.

Town is pretty empty today, since there is only one ship in town. So that makes moving around a lot easier.

We took the Conch Train back down Duvall street to the Hemingway house. It was a pretty interesting tour. The cats (55) on the property all have an extra toe, it makes for fat little paws. We posed First Mate Pig with one. The cat turned and sniffed Pig and he must of said something because the cat smacked him in the head. I rescued him and we continued on.

Back on the Train and up to a marina and the Keys Train Museum. A pretty good exhibit on how the east coast of Florida got started back in the 1880′s. A rail line was built from Atlanta along the coast and ton of hotels were built. That’s how Palm Beach became the place where the rich would go for the summer.

In 1900 a line was built to go the entire length of the keys and brought tourists to Key West. It was the fastest and cheapest way to get from the north to Key West until 1935 when a 24 mile section was wiped out at Islamorada. The railway served as the basis for Rt 1 to be built across the next few years.

Lunch was at the Turtle Kraals. We had conch fritters, they were pretty good.

From lunch we visited the Turtle Museum that showed what was the huge turtle meat industry back in the late 1890′s to 1920′s. In that time period they were pretty much able to destroy the turtle population within 150 miles of Key West. (70 500 (sq miles) is
45,120,000 acres) a lot of turtles.

Next door is the Dry Tortugas Visitors Center. Almost 70 miles west of Key West lies the remote Dry Tortugas National Park. The 100-square mile park is mostly open water with seven small islands. There is a fort on the island that held prisoners during the US civil war. It’s an all day tour to get out there. Maybe someday, but it’s not on my current bucket list.

We then wandered around the tourist area checking out Sloppy Joe’s bar (full of spring break kids), World of Beer (two great shirts and two six packs of beer) a shell place where Susan got an Alto Conch Shell to play.

Susan headed back to the boat to get to her movie while I checked out some more of the stores. I came across an adult gift store that had an entire “50 Shades” section. Next door was The Rum Bar, a bar started by Pat Croce of Philadelphia fame. The place is loaded with Philly sports stuff. It was almost time to get back on the boat so I didn’t have time to get a cheesesteak.

(It turns out that we had drinks or ate at a number of places he owns:Turtle Kraal, Green Parrot, Island Dogs and The Rum Bar.)

I got on the boat in time. A big daily event in Key West is the Sunset Celebration on the square the boat is docked at. So I guess the boat would block the view.

Dinner was at the pop up italian place on the Lido deck. We had the zuppa di pesci, eggplant caponata, sea bass, rigatoni with sausage and gelato. Another great meal, it was a nice way to end the trip.

We passed on the shows and just went back to the room to pack so we could get off the boat.

Tonights towel animal was a small gorilla and I got to help make it.

Sunday we are back on the Quo Vadimus!


Cruising Day 13 – At sea on the way to Key West

6 March 2015

The day started off with a phone call from the front desk. The Captain had gotten my suggestion to go to Key West Friday night. He said it’s not possible to stay overnight at the Key West Cruise Port. The cruise ships block the sunset for the residents. A very interesting answer.

I spent most of the morning reading in the Crow’s nest. I’ve read 6 books so far and I’m about 1/2 way through the current one, I should have it done tonight. Without the constant siren song of the internet I actually have the ability to concentrate.

At noon there was an Ice Sculpture demo up on the Lido deck by the pool. They start with a 4′x2′x3′ block of clear ice.

The sculptor starts with a short handled hoe and removes big chunks of ice. He works very fast. Once he has it roughed out then he uses smaller axes, chisels, and saws. It took him under 10 minutes to create a very nice swan. The final step is to rinse it with water to do the final smoothing of the edges.

I had wondered what happens when some nog the ice comes off when it’s not supposed to. He just puts it back in position and pushes hard on it for about 15 seconds. That refreezes the piece in place. Science in action!

Next stop was the cooking demo, he made stuffed chicken breast and a lobster soup. The demo was pretty good, there wasn’t anything hard about either dish. The ship has copies of the recipe available for u to take home. They also brought out small samples of the chicken dish to try, it was very good.

I also learned about the soup kettles with the spouts we had seen at “The Pinnacle” . They put the soup in them before service starts. As they need them they throw them onto a burner to heat. Since the kettle is heavy metal it heats fast and keeps the heat. That’s how they are able to deliver boiling soup at the table.

A quick ride to the top of the boat to the Crow’s Nest to see a towel folding demo. Two of the staff made a number of the animals that are cruise line staples. There are four different standard bodies that they start with. All of the animals can be made with any size towel. They make the animals in under a minute, if they take any longer the they fall behind on the rooms. Each steward is responsible for about 15 rooms worth of animals.

Two nights ago Island Magic musicians performed their steel pan show of “Show Tunes to Classical Music. Today they did a show of Caribbean classics with some contemporary songs (Wonderful World, some Beatles songs, etc.) The audience sang along to John Denver’s “Country Road” and they closed with Peter, Paul and Mary’s “Leaving on a Jet Plane”. I liked the show, but it clearly plays to a older crowd.

Today is another formal night, so I put on my formal polo shirt and we headed to the the Pinnacle Bar for their “sample and savor” option. Tonight was a really nice Pino noir from Australia. The savor snack were crab cake appetizers. They had been rolled in panko crumbs before cooking.

Dinner was at Tamarind the Asian Fusion Restaurant at the top of the ship. We had a great window looking southwest for the sunset. There were a few clouds so it wasn’t as great as it could have been.

The diner silver was very elegant. All of the handles were about 8″ long. They also had metal chopsticks with grooves at the food end to make it easier to pick food up.

The menu is huge, three soups, 6 appetizers, about 18 different rolls to start. The main section of the menu is broken down into 4 groups: Fire – spicy dishes, Wood – dishes from the land, Water – fish and sea food and Metal – dishes with special cooking methods.

Susan started with a special wonton soup. They were bigger than normal and had different fillings. She liked the miso broth they were served in.

Mine was two giant prawns, that had the heads removed and cooked in a tempura batter. It came with a salad that had ginger and lime as the dressing. It was very bright and refreshing. Sorry about the picture of just the tails, I got carried away.

Next for Susan was potstickers three ways, pork, lobster and duck. I think they were good, she didn’t offer to share. I had braised beef short ribs in 5 spice powder sauce. Loved it, would eat that again given a chance.

Susan chose from Wood, she had a wasabi encrusted filet with onion rings and rice. The wasabi added a lot of flavor, but after a few bites it became pretty hot.

I had scallops and shrimp, but rather than being on a plate they were served in a broth with some bok choy. The broth had a very light fish flavor and a touch of ginger. It was a great paring to the delicate flavors of the scallop and shrimp. When the waitress explained the disk I though at worst it could be a seafood soup. With the huge scallops and shrimp it was much more.

Dessert was a chocolate mousse with a hint of tamarind flavor in a chocolate shell. Susan has three flavors of sorbet, one was wasabi. It was very different.

From Tamarind we split up, Susan went to the theater to get us seats for “Garageband”. I went to the main dining room to see if I could get a piece of the rhubarb tart to go. Yep! Covered in plastic!! and with silver!!!

Swing by the room, drop off the tart, refill Susan’s wine and on the way by the sports bar order a drink for me. Drop off Susan’s wine, and nook at the theater, remember that I needed something in the cabin, walk back, pick it up, go past the bar, grab my now made drink and slide into my seat with 90 seconds to go. So it’s taken me 12 days to get the full layout of the ship in my brain, but I know have the shortest routes memorized.

Tonights show was “Garageband” by the ships talent. It was pretty good, 60′s, 70′s and 80′ car music (lots and lots of Beach Boy songs). It was fun, lots of action, songs, dancing. A huge overload of props, I can see why the cast talks about all the storage being full of “Garageband” stuff.

The show was packed, it was good that Susan got down early to get seats.

Tonight’s towel is a swan. It’s very elegant propped up by the pillows.


Cruising Day 12 – Costa Maya, Mexico

5 March 2015

We started off the day with breakfast in the main dining room. It was a nice bright morning and we got a nice window seat.

After breakfast I went up to the crows nest to work on these blog posts. About 9:30 the members of Island Magic the steel pan show from last night. They did an hour long Q&A session. The most amazing thing is none of the four (or the three that proceeded them) can read music, they all do it from listening to the original music and memorizing the notes.

We were prepping for our day in Mexico the Captain announced that due to the wind (30 kts) and waves (2-3 meters / 6 – 8 feet) they would not be able to dock. The boat would be broadside to the wind and waves. While they would be able to dock, it would be hard to get the ship smoothly off the dock (I guess you can’t just rev up a cruise-liner). I suggested that they just move on to Key West, putting us there Friday afternoon, but the cruise line decided the casino profits were more important than us seeing a Key West sunset. Go figure.

We had a nice lunch in the main dining area. Susan when with the grilled Mahi Mahi sandwich. I had a shrimp quesodea and a trio of different smoked salmon. The salmon came with horseradish, a pretty interesting taste combination.

After lunch we played team trivia, where we lost and pictionary that we won at.

The rest of the afternoon was lost to reading and napping. Since the Captain has about 36 hours to go to Key West our average speed is 10 kts. The Quo Vadimus could do that, the only problem is the big waves.

By 5PM the waves have dropped and the water is flat. We joined two other people for Food Trivia. We won, our missing answers had to do with “What fat is good fat” and name the candy that was named for a 1900′s race horse (Lollypop). All the real cooking questions we nailed.

We also talked some about the boat food. We were all in agreement that the pop up Italian place is the best food on the boat.

Dinner was Les Halles French Onion soup for Susan and Chile Relanoes for me for the appetizers and “Rare English Roast Beef and Pudding” for our mains. The beef was good, but not quite as good as the Queens Pub in Toronto, billed as “Proper roast Sunday dinner.

After dinner Susan went to a movie and I went up to the Lido deck to read. Because of the revised times, the evening show was on the Lido deck, it’s the piano player from the lounge. He is a cruise ship regular, lots of the audience are regular listeners of his act in the piano bar.

He does old standards like “American Pie”, “Crocodile Rock”, “What a Wonderful World”, etc. The only drawback is I was seated near the bar, and of course bar people never shut up. I’ll never figure out why they have a need to chatter like monkeys when there is a concert going on.

Tonights towel creation is a small koala.


Cruising Day 11 – Georgetown, Caymen Islands

4 March 2015

At 8 AM we steamed into the Georgetown Harbor. Since the Nieuw Amsterdam can hover, we were at the far edge. We would be tendering in using our lifeboats. A bonus for me, I’ve always wanted to be see inside one.

Each boat is powered by two small Diesel engines and has dual props. The engines drive hydraulic pumps that control the front bow thrusters. A pretty sophisticated boat for rescue purposes. Or shuttling guests to shore.

We took an early boat to allow us to walk around town before our bus tour. There were a few of the famous Caymen Banks, but mostly gift shops for the tourists. We picked up some small items and a few post cards. There was a post office in the center of town so we got the cards mailed off.

On our walk around town we passed a submarine tour. The pictures looked like our semi-submersible so we passed. Later on we heard that it really dives under water. They dive the cliff reef nearby and do down to 110 feet below the surface. Something to do when we come back.

Our tour was ready to go at 11 so we loaded into our 20 passenger bus with our driver “Mel” McCoy. He has lived all his life on the island and kept up a running dialog for the rest of the day.

First stop was at a bakery that made rum cakes and other pastries. We were able to sample both the finished cakes and the rum that went into it. The cake was good, Susan got a small one to take with us.

They also bake meat pies, like the traditional British ones you find in England, Australia and New Zealand, etc. We shared a beef and cheese pie and a chicken pie that had island flavors. Very good a nice island lunch.

Our next stop was the Caymen Island Brewery. We got samples of their beer (they make 7 different kinds). The manager then took us on a tour of the brewery. They are very aware that they are on an island so recycling and minimizing what they need to import is very important. For example they sell the used plant material from the wort to local animal farmers. A local pork producer is their biggest customer.

Bottles and cans are their biggest challenge. They have a huge recycling effort to recapture the aluminum and get ti sent back to their can manufacturer.

Their new bottles come from Germany and are pretty expensive. To offset the the cost they have invested in a bottle washer. They get back used bottles and run it through a wash / sanitize cycle that takes about an hour per bottle. The machine is a continuous process, with about 12 cases in a group. By doing their own cleaning they are able to save on their bottle costs.

At the end of the tour I bought beer to take home. Presently their production is not enough to keep up with local demand. They are growing, but don’t think they will be exporting in the new future.

Next on our bus tour was the XYZZY Rum Distillery. Their claim to fame is they age the rum underwater. They say that the cask when loaded weighs about 700 pounds. In the water its semi buoyant so it’s much easier to move them around. The second is that the cask is constantly moving in the water, it’s always moving, that is how it picks up it’s flavor.

They have two copper stills and two distillation columns to produce the final sprits. Once the distillation takes place they cask the liquid and age it. They then add flavors (banana, coconuts ) and bottle it. Sadly they only sell large bottles at $30/$40 each, it would be nice if they had pint bottles for easier travel.

With a little buzz going we returned to the boat in time for the Cupcake tea.

After tea the lifeboats started returning, so I went out to get pictures of the recovery process. One thing that was interesting that the crew wears helmets to keep from getting bonked in the head by the pulley lift system.

Susan and I watched the movie “Big Hero 6″ about robots in San Frantokyo in the futue. It was a pretty cool movie, the animation was very good.

Dinner was in the main restaurant. For starters we had a dish of Black Mussels steamed in a wine broth, Susan had the veal and I had the grilled salmon.

There was a table of four next to us and I heard them talk about the Mississippi, Ohio, and the Chesapeake Bay. The only people that talk about that in the same set of paragraphs are Loopers. Sure enough they were Loopers out of Ft Lauderdale, they had finished their Loop the week before their trip. We talked a few moments, they knew some of the people we had traveled with.

The show was a steel pan band that played a combination of Broadway show tunes and classical songs. The 4 member band consists of a drummer, a guy playing 4 base pans, a alto pan (for the melody) and a pair of tenor pans. Their best two were “Ava Maria” and the “William Tell Overture”.

Towel of the day was a sea turtle (we think).


Cruising Day 10 – Day at Sea

3 March 2015

We woke to see Cuba along the starboard side. We ran about 5 miles off shore for most of the day.

Susan was out and about early and I read in bed for about an hour. When she came back we went up to the Crow’s Nest so she could work on her latest project and I could catch up on these blog entries.

My morning activity was a second tour of the kitchen area. The first time was great, the second time I knew which photos I wanted to take so I was able to get them. It’s still amazing they get all those meals out with 120 cooks. About 30 people are responsible for all the dishwashing. With all the glassware, silver and dishes they really have their work cut out for them.

I had missed a picture of it last time, but I got a great one of the clamshell cooker, the grill that does such a great job with the steaks in the Pinnacle Restaurant.

After the tour I had a chance to see the lessons for “DWTS:aS”. There were a lot more people there than I expected.

I stayed for the first part of the “Food and Wine Magazine” cooking demonstration. There is one each day, but being off the boat it’s been hard to see them We got to see how they make the shrimp appetizer, Chili Chicken and the Italian Pork. Each is from the speciality restaurants aboard.

We had been invited to a special lunch with Indonesian dishes. We shared a table with a couple from NY, this is their third cruise. The food was very good and we had a window seat with a great view of the southern coast of Cuba.

After lunch we did Team Trivia. We were joined by 4 other people, but didn’t fare that well. My big surprise was learning that DVD no longer stands for “Digital Video Disk”, so much for being a computer geek.

After lunch we vegged out, me on the Lido deck by the pool, Susan took in a movie.

Dinner was at the pop up Italian restaruant on the Lido Deck. It only serves dinner, they section off a small part of the seating area. There is no extra charge, after eating there we were surprised that there were not more people eating there.

We started off with their selections for Pino and Cabernet wines. For our cold small plates we picked the Salumi and Beef Carpaccio. The meat was sliced very thin along with the cheese. Both types of meat melted in my mouth.

The hot small plates were clams cooked in a vermouth sauce with small bits of sausage, tomatoes and onions. I was happy that there was extra bread to be able to eat the remaining broth. The other plate was veal polpettina with just a touch of basil. The meatball was tender and very flavorful. It was served with a tomato sauce that tasted as if someone’s grandmother had been simmering it all day.

Our shared pasta dish was potato gnocchi with beef short ribs. Again the someone had spent hours braising the meat to perfection. We both liked the gnocchi.

Dessert was four flavors of gelato for Susan and a limoncello creme for me. Mine had small 1/8″ cubes of lemon infused gelatin to give it an additional fruity pop.

We both gave tonight higher marks than our dinner at the Pinnacle. The Pinnacle service was better, but the food here was much nicer.

Our show tonight was the re-creation of the Avalon Ballroom. It was performed by the cruise band, singers and dancers. All of the songs came from the big band era. “Inka Dinka Do” was one of the songs they played. It’s been many decades since either of us had heard that. The crowd loved it, most of them seem to be 20+ years older than us.

The only weird thing about band is there is no horn section, so the guy on the keyboard “plays” the horns. You can hear all the different horns, but only one person is playing.

Towel creation of thre day was a swan, like the first one, it was made of multiple towels.


Cruising day 9 – Half Moon Cay

2 March 2015

It’s our return to Half Moon Cay. We had been given the insider tip to get to the island early to get a good beach “clamshell” to shield us from the sun. We were on the first boat over and were able to get a great location near the beach entrances. Susan got a snorkel set and a floating pad, we were all set for the day.

We lounged around in the shade reading books and looking out into the lagoon of bright blue water. I went out to wade in the water. People had brought packs of breakfast cereal with them to feed the packs of angel fish. It was cool to watch the silver fish jump and snatch the brightly colored loops of cereal. (As an aside, when did Froot Loops become day-glo colors?)

Our only scheduled adventure for the day was an hour long ride on Sea-doos. We had great time zipping around in the lagoon. Once we knew what we were doing, we headed out into the ocean. It was a little bouncy out there, but once we got the timing of the waves it was fun to bounce over them. Coming back into the lagoon there was a good place and sets of waves to jump. I was able to get partially airborne. Top speed for me was 9500 RPM, just at 35 MPH. They are really a lot of fun.

Lunch was the island buffet, it was the same as our last visit with burgers, dogs, sausages and jerk chicken breast.

I hung out on the beach reading while Susan went and used the floar on the gentle waves. Towards our leaving time we went out and stood in the water watching the fish come around looking for more cereal. The day really reminded me of our days in Ocean City when the kids were little.

Once back on the boat we went to the pool area. Susan relaxed some in the hot tub and we both enjoyed a beer. Once we turned out of the shield of the Cay the wind picked up and the umbrellas started flying around the deck. I helped grab them before they crashed into the pool. With today’s excitement over it was time for a shower and sand free clothing.

We stopped by the “Sip and Savor” for a glass of wine and the appetizer of the day, a small toast round with bleu cheese, raisin and a walnut half. It was a very nice canapé.

We had dinner on the third level of the Manhattan Restaurant. Susan had an interesting chevichie of salmon and tuna, I had the pepper pot soup to start. Our main courses were yellow tail snapper and an island spiced pork chop. Desserts were a mango sundae and a double chocolate (white and dark) mousse.

The show tonight started off with a toast to the ship by the Captain. The comic was what I’d consider old school, something you would have gone to in the 80′s. Some great laughs, but some real groaners.

Towel creation tonight was a lobster, lots of folds to bring out the texture.


Cruising day 8 – Ft Lauderdale

1 March 2015

Wow, it was a quick week and also a quick month, it’s now March. Just a few weeks more before we head north again.

We got off the boat in Ft Lauderdale to meet with a cousin and her husband. They’ve lived in the Lauderdale area for awhile and offer to give us a tour.

The Lido Deck food area was mobbed with people trying to eat before they got off the boat. So we opted for the formal sit down breakfast in the Manhattan Restaurant. There is something nice about a served breakfast.

Time to get off the boat, and it turns out our travel skills have gotten sloppy. We’ve been able to get off the boat and be on the streets in moments. Welcome back to the USA, it took us almost an hour to get through Immigration. I’m not sure why we needed to do that since we all got on the boat in Ft Lauderdale, security was pretty tight at all the ports and we are all coming back here. Your tax dollars in action.

Once on the street we were good to go. First up was a quick ride through Miami and then to South Beach. The Art Deco buildings with their great colors and “eyebrows” over the windows was very impressive.

We cruised the length of the main South Beach area, a mob of people, antique cars, modern luxury and super luxury cars, people out watching people and people out to be seen. Luxury hotels turned condo and hotels famous from the 50′s with their view of the bright blue Atlantic. All I needed was my Sonny Crocket linen jacket (I already had a t-shirt on) and I was set to re-enact Miami Vice.

We were able to score an amazing parking place about two blocks from the beach. We headed out the hard packed sand (from all the cars driving on it) to the edge of the water. And even though it’s the first of March, the beach was full of people enjoying the day. We had been warned about the topless bathers, and there were a number (both male and female) out and about.

Lunch was at the favorite sidewalk cafe of our hosts the Clevelander. Lots of people walking by and glances our way, could it be we are people to see? With the cool sea breeze, good food, cold drinks and great conversation, South Beach was the place to be.

Sated and very happy we headed north to get a quick tour of Ft Lauderdale. We know from our limited driving around that Florida traffic is a crapshoot. We were in and out of traffic a few times, never really seeing what was causing the problems.

We turned into Ft Lauderdale to cruise the beach. We got stopped by the drawbridge at the southern end, near the cruise terminal. While we waited, the car next to us popped their hatch and the passenger was digging out water bottles. He saw us watching and offered us some. We declined, and once the hatch slammed shut we saw the North Carolina plates. “Ahh, that explains it, Florida residents would never do that” said our host.

We crawled along the beach and our thoughts went to when does spring break start. About a mile later we found out, there was a fraternity flag (Omega Tau Budweiser) flying on the beach with about 200 kids around it. Spring break starts in March.

After gawking our way down the Ft Lauderdale beach we got back to the boat just at our 3PM boarding time. We just made it to lifeboat station just in time to be counted.

A Princess boat left ahead of us. Rather than the normal horn, they play the staring notes of theme to “The Love Boat”.

Sunday night was the start of a new week, so the dinner menu starts recycling. We both had seared sea scallops. Susan had roast chicken with quinoa pilaf, I had very rare prime rib and a huge baked potato. Key Lime Pie and little pastries ended dinner on a high note.

The show tonight was an introduction to the musical acts that we will see in the next week. It was pretty good, the shows aboard have been well done.

Towel creature tonight is a frog. Not our stewards best work, but pretty cool.