Key West Stone Crabbing: the rules, labor, process, rewards, and costs.

I’m departing from our normal “blog in chronological order” and instead will cover our Key West winter by individual subjects.  We are here for two and a half months, so it would probably get a bit tedious to simply repeat the things we are doing each week while here.  Frankly, this is sort of how we did it two years ago, so we are not really breaking new ground.

Any excuse to get out on the water!

Despite having grown up in Florida in a pretty outdoorsy family, I had never fished in the ocean until last year during our forth winter stay in Key West.  To our mild surprise, Rose and I both discovered we absolutely love going out on a boat and catching fish (down here, it’s more catching than fishing.)  Last year we had the good fortune to hook up with Dennis and Ginger, who brought their small, flat bottom boat down from North Carolina, and after a season of successful near shore boating we, along with our friends Steve and Deb, talked about expanding our activities to stone crab trapping. 

It’s pretty common to get some things in the trap other than crab.  We have pulled a fair number of small spiny lobsters out, and expect that we might get a blue crab or two some time as well.  If the blues are big enough we can take them, but we can’t keep these lobsters: too small and recreational lobster has to be caught by hand with scuba or snorkel.

A standard Florida salt water fishing license includes the right to stone crabbing, with each license holder permitted five recreational traps.  Honestly, our talk last year about crabbing this year had, in my mind, been less than conclusive and more exploratory in nature, i.e., “perhaps we will try some crabbing.”  But in Dennis’ recollection it was a firm commitment, and days after our arrival he had me in his Jeep headed 22 miles north to Cudjoe Key to get three flat pack kits of five traps each. Despite a rough start, I am ever thankful for his insistence. 

This is a bit more unusual: a 2 foot nurse shark managed to wiggle in and couldn’t get out.  Still very much alive and full of our pigs feet bate.

The kits come with nearly everything you need to get started: molded plastic traps, hinges, screws for assembly, entry hole, chew out block, marine line, and buoys.  The only thing you have to get separately is concrete (the traps are basically five sides of a cube, with 25 pounds of cement serving as both the floor and the anchor) and bait, plus paint if you want to distinctively decorate the buoys.  The trap assembly was a piece of cake, far easier than most Ikea products; Ginger and I “assembly lined it” while Dennis went to get cement.  The cement, however, was just plain hard work since we had limited tools and facilities: essentially we had to mix up 15 separate batches of it, one for each trap.

 

Trap construction: the sides and top snap together, then you use the stainless steel screws to attach the hinges, latches, entry hole, and wood chew out block.  The last is in case you lose a trap completely, the wood block can eventually be eaten through so a lost trap does not end up catching crab after crab and starving them.

Then there is the bait.  Having consulted with a handful of experienced trappers, we went with the initially expensive option of pigs feet.  Yes, pigs feet.  While you can certainly attract crabs with a big helping of fish heads and entrails (frequently available for free at the marina fish cleaning station) they simply won’t last long enough for our needs.  After a few days in the trap, pin fish and other small creatures will likely have picked every last piece of meat from the bones.  We don’t have the option of going out every three days to check every trap and replace the fish, so we needed something that the pin fish and their ilk could not so easily decimate, and the tough pig skin is what the experts use. 

60 pound big box of still mostly frozen pigs feet.

We supplement the pig feet with a can of wet cat food in each trap, drilling a few holes in the can before placement.  Cat food is one of those somewhat controversial choices among the recreational crabbing community; some people swear by it, others think it is a useless ingredient supported no more than an old wive’s tale.  Having done this crabbing thing for more than a month now, our current bait theory is thus: Do not skimp, put in lots of food, and cover all olfactory bases.

Steve: Hooker

The pig feet, while costing us $40 for a big 60 pound box, lasts a full month in our 20 (yes, we bought more) traps.  But the pig feet take a couple of days to really break down, rot, emit aromas, and therefor attract the crabs.  So we include a can of cat food to start things off faster.  And since we are putting the boat in at the marina, we might as well toss in a couple of fish heads in each trap as well.  It may be overkill, but we want our crabs to be happy, well fed, and not eating each other should we have a long delay between trap retrieval days.

Jack: Hauler

A word about the self sustaining nature of stone crabbing: unlike lobstering, blue crabbing, dungeness crabbing, snow crabbing, or king crabbing, with stone crabs you are only taking a claw, and only if it is big enough, and never from egg bearing females.  The crab goes back in the water to live and regrow said claw.  I am informed that there is a greater than 90% survival rate for crabs that have had one claw cleanly removed.  This “clean removal” process is a bit of an art in and of itself, and as our group’s designated claw remover, I am still perfecting the process.  In one unfortunate incident, I broke the entire crab in half.  I suspect he had a less than 90% survival likelihood.

One of our larger crabs.

So how has it gone?  It started really bad, but has picked up enormously.  A few days after our first 14 traps were placed (there was a boat propeller-to-styrofoam buoy incident which precluded full trap placement) we went out and excitedly gathered a grand total of three legal sized crab legs on our first haul.  This was a bit crushing since our already high expectations had been raised even higher by some experienced crabbing acquaintances that, as we left the marina, predicted we would come back with 25 on our first trip.

Measuring is definitely a two person job.

It felt a bit like that scene in Forrest Gump when he came back from shrimping with not even enough for a shrimp cocktail appetizer.  OK, our trap placement was not perfect, and they had only been in the water a few days, but it was pretty disappointing, and we discussed many options for improving our lot.  Regardless, rather than freeze such a minuscule amount, we elected to cook and symbolically eat them, however little meat there was, as our first official self-caught stone crab meal. 

The second time we went to pull traps was better in every way.  Dennis and Ginger had five traps each, and Steve and I realized that two of us splitting the take from just five joint traps would likely never provide us and our wives more than a small appetizer with each catch.  So he went and purchased five more traps, which we rapidly prepped to drop on our second trap retrieval trip, along with the last of Dennis’ traps with a replacement buoy.  Said catch was more to our liking: we had 15 legal claws to take home.  Steve steamed and froze them in anticipation of a future crab fest. 

Our second haul was better: 15 claws.

Each time we go out we get better at it.  We have moved non-producing traps to better producing locations.  Dennis gets better and better at boat handling around the traps.  Steve and I have figured out a division of labor at the front of the boat as we snag and reel in each trap by hand, and then pull the individual crabs out, measure the claws, and take what is legal.  Rose records each trap’s result so we can assess if we need to move it.  I have gotten more comfortable grabbing the crabs (the crabs are deceptively fast and their claws are shockingly strong; a wrong move and despite work gloves there will be blood if not a broken finger.)

There is method to this data collection madness.  Rose kept track of how many crabs of any size were in the trap, how many claws we took, and what other things were in the trap (lobster, shark).  This allows us to make informed decisions about moving unproductive traps to more productive areas.

Our most recent trip out was the most productive by far.  Granted, it was nearly two weeks since our last pull as we waited for a calm day, but when those smooth seas finally came we pulled out 39 legal crab legs from 18 of our traps!  Things got a bit windy and we had to leave one of our three areas with two traps unaccounted for.  This crab haul was cause for celebration, and so we had a dinner-party-cum-crab-fest with the six of us earlier this week.  We had eleven pounds of crab from the 54 claws, and with our side dishes it was simply too much.  We ended up each taking home 7 uneaten claws for various culinary uses in the following days.  Rose and I just gorged on stone crab white cheddar mac and cheese to finish off our share.

About 11 pounds of steamed stone crab claws.

Lets talk money.  Getting into recreational stone crabbing is surprisingly affordable by Key West standards, but it still requires an initial investment.  A flat pack of five trap kits costs $118 and change after taxes.  Once you add in two 60 pound bags of cement, and a share of the pigs feet and cat food, I calculate each holder of five traps is into it for $150.  That is $600 for our 20 traps.  We have pulled in a bit over 11 pounds, which by standard grocery prices goes for around $30 a pound (it varies by claw size.)  So by my reckoning we have paid for about half of our initial investment, and there is still a month to go this season along with future years. 

This is how we want our traps to look: lots of crabs, with several claws big enough to keep, and no other intruders.

All of that fancy math ignores one big thing: you have to have a boat, and only Dennis is providing that.  You could maybe haul in crab traps in a stand up paddle board or kayak if they were close to shore, but really, you need a boat.  Steve and I try to compensate for our lack of boat contribution.  Need ice? we buy it.  Cat food? we got it.  Truck to put the boat in? Steve has it.  But really, we are indebted to and dependent on Dennis for this generous part of the venture.  In a future post I hope to address the informal customs and economics of private recreational boat owners versus their fishing/crabbing/ lobstering passengers. 

Rose was barely able to catch this pic as i snatched and tossed the nurse shark back.

Advertisements

48 Months Fulltiming: December 2018 Report

The Distance:  714 miles as we ran an inverted “U” from SW to SE Florida via Central Florida ending the month in Key West.  We closed out our 2018 distance with 10,436 miles. 

The Places:  We spent the first 22 days of the month in Venice before embarking on our Christmas run around the state.  We spent two days with Cousin Carlyle and her family in Inverness, then Christmas morning in Lake Mary at Aunt Judy’s, five days with Xavier and Joy in Coral Springs, one night with the Nieves in Cutler Bay, and finally made it to Key West on New Years Eve day.  We enjoyed 22 days with full hook ups, 5 days with 20 amp electricity, and dry camped for 2 days.

The Budget:  Like last month, we continued out push to make up for our big Ocotober repair/upgrade bill.  Despite 22 days in our most expensive regular park, we compensated with three markets and very limited expenditures beyond the necessities.  We ended up 8% under budget, which is solid, but not quite enough to get us completely under for the year.   January and February should be really good for us, so we will catch back up by the end of Winter.

The Drama and the Improvements:   Nothing significant to report, other than our brand new TV antenna no longer is getting power.  Might have to swing back by the installation shop in Port Charlotte on the way out of Key West in 2019 if we can’t get it working.  If things go well in January with our markets we will begin making some improvements and upgrades this Spring.

Our monthly reports so far this year:

January Monthly Report

February Monthly Report

March Monthly Report

April Monthly Report

May Monthly Report

June Monthly Report

July Monthly Report

August Monthly Report

September Monthly Report

October Monthly Report

November Monthly Report

A Christmas Dash around Florida

I grew up very close to my first cousins Rob and Carlyle, spending many days at their house and more at our grandparents lake house.  We are close in age, and all remember Christmas as a major family gathering.  Adulthood and our scattered locations meant seeing them rarely, and almost never with the three of us and our families together.  Three years ago I finagled their dad into hosting a Christmas season event that saw us all united, and I managed to host one in Central Florida two years back as well.  Last year it just didn’t come together, but for 2018 cousin Carlyle volunteered to host at her house on the Gulf Coast on the Sunday before Christmas, allowing all those with jobs to attend.

How “cousins” work: First cousins share a grand parent.  Second cousins share a great grand parent.  Third cousins share a great great grandparent.  If the cousins are separated by a generation, i.e., the child of a first cousin, then they are “once removed.”  E.g., this is my son with my first cousin Rob’s twin children.  That makes the girls my first cousins, once removed, and makes them the second cousins to my son.  Got it?

We pulled chocks from Sanibel and drove up to Inverness in time for me to cook a whole turkey (brined overnight, spatchcocked, of course) while Carlyle’s daughter Allie prepped most of the side dishes and other options.  The gathering itself was great, really great.  We had a full house with Carlyle’s husband Alex and their daughters Allie and Haylie, Cousin Rob, his wife Colleen, and their twins Maeve and Nola, my dad and step Mom Marcia, son Jackson and daughter in law Andrea, and Rob and Carlyle’s mom, Chris.  Alex let the top quality tequila and rum flow freely, and we all had a great time, especially with stories of our misspent youth. 

PKM meeting her first horses.  Five feet was OK. Four was not.

We stayed at Carlyle and Alex’ farmhouse for two nights, allowing Alex time to take us on a boat ride along the canal and inland waterways with a stop at one of the small islands where he is building a cabin retreat, and by “he is building” I mean he is physically doing it himself, up on telephone stilts to account for storm surge.

The island getaway cabin Alex is building.

They took us to The Freezer, a dockside shrimp and seafood place that was just fantastic.  We can highly recommend the steamed shrimp and the spicy smoked mullet dip.   We finished the boat trip with a spin around Monkey Island, a sort of monkey refuge for the former escape artists of a 40 year old wildlife exhibit. 

On Christmas morning we headed out quite a bit earlier than our usual start time in order to make Aunt Judy’s annual Christmas morning brunch.  She always puts on a great spread, which means we always eat too much.  She had a moderate sized gathering of eleven this year.  We kept the actual mimosa’s to a minimum since upon departing we had to make the nearly four hour drive down to Coral Springs. 

Xavier and Joy had a full house with two of Rosemarie’s sisters in from out of town, so we ended up sleeping in the RV since the bedrooms were all taken.  The advantage of having our house wherever we go; in the right situation we can be less of a house guest burden, at least if you don’t count the huge rig taking up most or your driveway and connected to your electrical outlet.

That house with the three sisters and niece Tamiry can get loud, but it was great fun to have everyone together for the holiday season.  We had a big afternoon party with Dolores’ god father, Uncle Mario and his wife Ena and mother Mrs P, and friends of the sisters were frequently swinging by.  I got introduced to the Lemongrass Hot Pot, a very interesting dining experience that is sort of a Chinese/foodie take on fondue with a magnetic conveyor track cycling vegetables and noodles around every table.

The Sisters

Rosemarie took a full day trip back to the Gulf Coast (Naples beaches) with the sisters and niece (her shelling fever hasn’t broke yet) while I went all in on geocaching in order to meet my “1000 finds by the end of the year” goal.  We both had excellent luck.

We broke up our ride to Key West with a one day stop at the Nieves house.  They moved into a new home in the same neighborhood, and this one has a much bigger drive way that require just a bit of maneuvering to fit.  It was a long fun evening of stories, pizza, a few cocktails, and me decimating everyone in a game of “Five Second Rule.”  We look forward to hosting them in The Keys if they can make it down this winter.

Rosemarie’s God Daughter, Kai

On New years Eve morning we made the drive south, registered with the camp host on duty, and got settled in to dry camp site one row back from water front.  It is good to be back in paradise to start off 2019!

We will soon put out or December fulltiming report followed by a “2018 in review” post with our statistics, favorites and not so favorites of the year.  Since we are still in Key West this will sort of catch us up on the blog.

(Most of) December in Sanibel

Our first week on Sanibel Island this Winter reminded us why we not only keep coming back, but also why we increase out stay time each year: we just love the place and all it provides.  Beautiful beaches, outstanding shelling, fun shops, excellent restaurants, miles of bike trails, vast nature preserves, easy access to The Big City (Fort Myers) and a great social atmosphere at Periwinkle Park.  With just over three weeks remaining in our month long stay, we tried to hit all the things we remembered loving and add a few new events and places to our experience.

 

We are now in the habit of timing our Winter visit such that it overlaps “Luminary,” an Island-wide annual event on the first Friday in December.  After stumbling across it two years ago, we ensure this fantastic evening is part of our early Winter.  Miles of bike paths are lined with paper, sand, and candle lanterns, many of the businesses along the route put out sample trays of their food, or provide wine, cheese, and other hors d’oeuvres, and a few locations provide live music.

 

We are much more prepared than our first year: our bikes have full lighting, we know the route, add a bit of flair to our clothes, and peddle hard to our furthest point and then making it a leisurely return with multiple stops before finishing the evening at Huxters, just outside Periwinkle Park, for the live band.  If you find yourself in SW Florida in early December, consider giving this event a run. 

We used our library membership to check out passes to the Clinic for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife, or CROW.  They give a fun and informative talk about all they do, which by the name you can probably figure out involves taking injured animals, nursing them back to health, and if possible returning them to the wild.  They also do a lot of research and data collection for use by a wide range of organizations tracking wildlife populations and the like. 

Though we had big plans to hit several of the excellent restaurants on Sanibel and Captiva, our budget busting repairs from late October encouraged us to reel in our dining this month, particularly since we are already paying one of our steepest daily camping rates.  Thus we did not get to return to Island Cow or The Pecking Order, or try out Timbers or The Clam Shack.  We did hit our preferred pizza joint from past years, but something has gone amiss in their “by the slice” system, and we were very disappointed.  Ah well, we made up for this culinary austerity program with some wonderful stuff from the three farmers and artisans markets we did in Naples.

Speaking of which: we did three farmers and artisans markets in Naples.  One of the things we have always said about our market participation in various venues across the country is that even when we don’t make a lot of money, we still get to enjoy the locally produced goods, interact with locals and tourists alike, and get the skinny on things we should and should not do in these unfamiliar towns and cities.  I’m gonna come right out and admit that this positive attitude towards low performing markets has gotten harder to retain in light of our increasing expectations following some of our recent extraordinary successes. 

One of the more interesting sights from our Naples market.  Yes, hair dye, not clothing.

So yes, we were pretty disappointed with that first Naples event last month, but the second one was better, and then the third was, again, disappointing, but we closed out with a moderate bang on our fourth.  If, for whatever reason, we find ourselves staying in the Naples area, we will consider doing their Pine Ridge market again, but when in Sanibel next year, we will seek closer venues in Fort Myers.

Kind of rare for us to enjoy a sunrise, so at least we got that out of the market.

That said, we bought some wonderful stuff, and by stuff I mean food.  We would start off our day with a big glass of fresh juiced passion fruit.  My God, this stuff is amazing, like an explosion of flavor in your mouth.  Then it was, perhaps, a chocolate croissant for a late breakfast.   We took home blue cheese stuffed olives, pepper jelly, free range eggs, smoked fish dip (mullet is so much better than almost any other options) and specialty cheeses. 

Red shouldered hawk that let us get pretty close during a trip to Fort Myers.

In previous visits to Sanibel, about the only things that got us off the island were the Naples markets.  It just seemed inefficient to pay a $6 toll to go to wherever, when we were already paying that price on market days.  This year we worried less about that and enjoyed multiple day trips to various mainland spots.  It wasn’t all fun and games, one of the first non-market day Fort Myers trips was for me to get a Basal Cell Carcinoma nodule removed via “electrodessication.”

I’m fine, its one of the least dangerous skin things you can get, I am paying the wages of a misspent Florida youth along with some genetic predisposition (thanks Granddad!) and after consultation I elected the electrical burning of it off my arm rather than surgical excision.  The scar is probably a bit worse than the “cut it out” option, but it impacted my activity far less. 

The Basal Cell nodule I had removed.  Haha, no, its an octopus we rescued from a sea gull and returned to the ocean. 

Anyway, whenever I was off island I incorporated Geocaching into the day.  Before my dermatology procedure, I did 25 or so caches in southern Fort Myers.  On another quite day I did another score or so on Cape Coral.  Rosemarie and I did a few during a windy visit to Fort Myers Beach, where we also visited yet another Moose Lodge, our 24th, for a few drinks.  We hit a handful of local thrift shops during our ventures, scoring low cost items for ourselves and gifts for others. 

One of many osprey’s on Sanibel.

One of the things we will need to seriously consider before our next Sanibel visit is the possible purchase of a LeeWay transponder.  Like most toll transponders, it provides the convenience of not having to actually stop at toll booths along with automatic payment via a registered account.  Apparently LeeWay is connected to SunPass (Florida-wide toll system,) E-Pass (Central Florida Expressway system,) Peach Pass (Georgia) and Quick Pass (North Carolina.) 

Typical Sanibel shell mound.

The advantage LeeWay offers over Sunpass is a major discount for the Sanibel Causeway: for a flat $50 fee the $6 toll is reduced to $2 for a six month period (either Nov 1 to Apr 30, or May 1 to Oct 31.)  You can get a full year of this discount for $67, but we really don’t see ourselves in the region outside that late Fall, Winter, early Spring period, so the math is thus: will we cross the causeway 13 times or more during this window?  During our one month stay this year we crossed 10 times, and will probably visit again in late March.  That is right on the edge, but I think we will do it next season just so we don’t feel constrained.

Finally, let’s talk about the shelling, after all, this is one of the primary things Sanibel is known for.  Every day is different, every beach is variable, and we accept and adjust for these changes.  Some days we would hit Bowman’s beach and walk north, away from the crowds, until we hit the major shell piles a mile from the popular areas.  Others we would start at Blind Pass, the cut between Sanibel and Captiva islands, and head south. Several evenings we rode our bikes to Lighthouse Point on the eastern tip of Sanibel to watch the sunset, observe the near shore dolphin hunting, and enjoy the surprisingly good shelling following some heavy weather. 

Part of Rosemarie’s Sanibel shell haul.

We found a lot of beautiful shells: Florida Fighting Conchs of course, Lightning Whelks, Banded Tulips, True Tulips, Apple Murex, Lace Muriex, Shark Eyes, Alphabet Cones, various Scallops, Angel Wings, Florida Cones, Olives, Kings Crowns, Jingles, Worm Shells, Pearl Whelks, etc, etc.  Truly a wonderful shell haul.  But Rosemarie kept reading about the shelling excursions on the Ten Thousand Islands near Marcos Island.  This would be a boating trip to some of the uninhabited islands off the southwest coast with some experienced shelling guides.

We sprung for a shelling tour for Rosemarie with Treasure Seekers Shell Tours.  For $100 she would get a 45 minute boat ride from a Goodland, FL marina, to one of those islands,  three or so hours of professionally guided shelling, light snacks, and the ride back.  A few days before Rosemarie’s trip the weather turned sour, and with a phone call we rescheduled to the day after the bad weather, which would be our last full day in the area.

Shelling on the Ten Thousand Islands is quite different than walking the pristine beaches of Sanibel.  This amazing mound exists partly due to the storms, and partly due to so few people making it out here to pick through it.

Oh what luck.  The stormy days had kicked up an unusually large bounty of shells, and Rosemarie came back with a stunning array, including a very rare variant of the already rare Junonia, a “Chocolate” Junonia, so named because of the much darker and wider spots on this version.   Another woman in her group found a standard Junonia, the sort we now look down our noses at.  In all seriousness, the storm kicked up so many Junonias that we were getting reports of a handful more found by members of the shell tour over the next couple of days.  Someone joked that the Gulf Coast was going to have to come up with another Holy Grail of Shells since Junonias were getting too common. 

Chocolate Junonia (center)

That was a heck of a way to close out our Sanibel stay.  We will be back for sure, hopefully this Spring before we begin our travels out of Florida. 

This beautiful hermit crab gets to keep his shell.  

Up next: Family, family, family as we do pre-Christmas with the cousins, a Christmas day run back to Central Florida and down to Coral Springs.

A collection of the best finds from the group of six on this tour.

 

47 Months Fulltiming: November 2018 Report

The Distance:  581 miles as we bounced around from Florida’s Gulf Coast to Central Florida and down to Coral Springs.  This brings out 2018 total up to 9,722.  With our December plans we should easily crack 10K.

The Places:  We departed Venice on the first of the month, and then went back and forth between Lake Monroe Park (weekends) and Wekiwa Springs State Park (weekdays) for 22 days before heading south to Coral Springs for five days around Thanksgiving.  Then it was over to Periwinkle Park on Sanibel Island to start a one month stay.  We had full hook ups for 17 days, partial (electric and water) for 7, and stayed with family for 6.

The Budget:  16% underbudget, which is good, but not what we had hoped for this month considering our limited mileage, four markets, six days staying free with family and another week in the low cost county park on Lake Monroe.  This means it will be near impossible for us to get under budget for the year in December since we will be spending three weeks at an expensive place, doing Christmas, and prepping for Key West.  Our overage will be a very small percent of the annual budget, so we will get back on track in January.

PKM helping Rosemarie with a crafting project.

The Drama and the Improvements:   Nothing significant in this arena.  After our roof and other repairs/upgrades at the end of October, we are taking a break from anything costly until we get back on budget.

Our monthly reports so far this year:

January Monthly Report

February Monthly Report

March Monthly Report

April Monthly Report

May Monthly Report

June Monthly Report

July Monthly Report

August Monthly Report

September Monthly Report

October Monthly Report

First week of a month long stay in Sanibel

We have been coming to Periwinkle Park on Sanibel Island since our first year with our “training” RV, The Barracuda, a 1978 GM Motorhome, and we have returned a couple of times a year ever since.  As we have likely mentioned before, Periwinkle Park is your only RV option on Sanibel or Captiva unless you know someone with a house with room for you to park, or you snag one of the coveted work-camping jobs at Ding Darling National Preserve (for which there is a waiting list.) 

So with Periwinkle being the only game in town, they can charge steep prices: $58 a night, all in.  OK, so you are willing to bite the bullet and pay that price, but can you even get a reservation?  The park offers “right of first refusal” for the upcoming year to their regular Fall and Winter seasonal customers (The Forty-Niners, so named because originally there were 49 RV sites,) all of whom have been coming for more than a decade. 

It’s not just shells in Sanibel: there is some fantastic driftwood as well.

This means that if you want to stay for any significant length of time in the high season, you need to have been coming for years, slowly building up your stay length as the park management begins to remember you from previous visits and as one of the regulars stops coming.  And Forty-Niners are dedicated: we have met several that, once they became uncomfortable driving their rig all the way down from the north, they started storing their  in Fort Myers and paying someone to deliver it to Sanibel, timed to their arrival.  After six years of repeat visits, we were able to lock in a full month this year, our longest stay, between Thanksgiving and Christmas. 

Medium sized gator swimming away in that pic.

Oh, and the big monthly rate discount you often see at RV parks?  Here it is roughly a 16% decrease from the daily rate, and nothing more than that for an entire season.   This is not the most expensive place we have ever stayed, but it is certainly the priciest RV campground that we regularly visit.  Such an expenditure requires an offset, which is why we have stuck with the Naples Pine Ridge Farmers Market despite the inconvenience of driving their each Sunday and our variable success we have had. 

So the day after our afternoon arrival in Sanibel, we were up at dawn to take the heavily loaded Loki off island for our first of four reserved markets there.   It turned out OK, but not great.  This is sort of what we saw last year with the weekend immediately following Thanksgiving: mediocre sales as, I’m guessing, people were burnt from Black Friday and we aren’t close enough to Christmas.  Ah well.

Honestly, we are victims of our own inertia, having defaulted and financially committed to the Naples event (you have to pay the vendor fee for four weekends in advance) due to our previous participation before we did the research for closer options.  We have done that research now, and found market options in the greater Fort Myers area for nearly every day of the week, which will involve a noticeably shorter drive the next time we come to Sanibel. 

Good God look at the size of that kitty!

Enough griping.  We are on Sanibel, and it is fantastic.  The severe red tide they experienced for much of the Summer and early Fall has mostly dissipated, i.e., we could not detect it at all from the campground, and only noticed it on two visits to the beach, and the shelling has been solid.  Our familiarity with the island means we know which beaches to hit, and, for the most part, which establishments to patronize. 

Typical Sanibel Shell Mound

That includes the Sanibel Public Library, a really excellent example of what a local library can be with sufficient support.  In addition to the books and DVDs, the wifi is free and reasonably fast, the staff knowledgeable, and you can check out passes to three local things that normally charge an entry fee.  Thus in our first week we returned to the National Shell Museum, a place worth visiting even if if you have to pay the regular entry fee. 

Finally, having been coming for six years, though for admittedly brief stays, the regulars are starting to recognize us, particularly those that attend the evening social hour at the covered seating area near the pond.  Though attendance was light that first week; many of the Forty-Niners have not yet arrived for the winter.   So far, we are generally loving our stay and have no regrets about securing a full month here.

Coral Springs Thanksgiving

After our final market day in Central Florida we headed south to Coral Springs, a bit north of Fort Lauderdale, to stay with Xavier and Joy for a few days.  We couldn’t afford for this stop to be pure leisure: we needed to get some things done in preparation for our upcoming month long stop in Sanibel and the markets in the region.  This meant hitting the craft stores to refill supplies, stocking up on groceries since things are noticeably more expensive on the island, and an afternoon at our storage facility to retrieve some things, put away some things, and reorganize it a bit. 

While in Corals Springs Joy helped me turn this batch of Jackson’s peppers from this…

For most of the last 15 years we have hosted or co-hosted Thanksgiving dinner with Xavier and Joy.  I do the turkey (brined and spatchcocked) with the rest of the immediate family providing other courses and side dishes.  We have hosted up to 17 people, but in recent years it was just the four of us and felt a lot less special.  So this year we changed things up and skipped making the meal all together in favor of a dining out at a great restaurant.

…into this

Yes, most places are closed for the day, but if you are in a reasonably large metropolitan area you can find plenty of options; establishments that stay open to cater to just the sort of folks like us that are not up for the hassle of making a big sit down meal.   We did some online research, but it really takes phone calls to sort things out as most of the restaurant websites did not explicitly address their holiday hours.   We narrowed it down to a few ethnic options before selecting La Vie Lebanese in nearby Pompano.

PKM being taunted by this guy.  He’s real tough when there is glass in between them.

What a great choice, everything was fantastic!  The decor, service, and especially the food exceeded our high expectations.  We started with an appetizer sampler platter of hot mezza dishes to share, and followed up with most of us selecting one of the lamb offerings.  The portions were large enough that we ended up taking a good amount home, and it was still delicious warmed up for lunch the next day.  I think we may have a new Thanksgiving tradition on our hands. 

The food was too delicious for us to even remember to get a picture of it once it came.

Our Central Florida Routine: Bouncing Between Wekiwa Springs and Lake Monroe

Having secured and prepaid the vendor fee for four Saturdays at the Lake Mary Farmers Market, we scurried back to the region following our five day visit to Venice.  For our two and a half week stay we would end up spending the majority of our time at Wekiwa Springs State Park, but with two weekends at Lake Monroe County Park.

PKM did not enjoy her birthday costume…

As I have mentioned before, this is almost a pattern for us.  We prefer the public parks over private resorts in this region, with Wekiwa and Blue Spring State Park being our top two.  But with weekend availability difficult to secure without long range planning, we often end up at the very affordable and usually more easily available Lake Monroe site for a few days.

… but she sure enjoyed her “cake.”

We started with three days there, punctuated by our Saturday market, the second of our four.  We had great success, even better than our first week at the market, which we really needed after our big upgrade and repair bill on Serenity from October.  Then it was back over to Wekiwa Springs for the middle of the week.

Aside from the fantastic first magnitude spring, we really love Wekiwa for the wildlife.  Every visit we are almost assured of seeing wild turkeys, deer, wood peckers, and box tortoises.  Our weeks there this season were no exception with multiple sightings of all those, along with a brightly marked yellow rat snake down next to the spring itself.

Son Jackson was able to join us a couple of days there, and we snorkeled and free dove around the main spring a lot more than I recall ever doing.  Nothing deep or dangerous: I have zero interest in cave diving, besides, you can only get about 15 feet down before the outflow pushes you back up.  Even though the water temp is pretty steady at 72 degrees, the shorty wet suit I bought at a community yard sale in Key West really made a huge difference in how much time I could comfortably spend in the water.

Jackson and his brother Hollis visiting for the day.  Can’t think of anything that goes better together than power tools and drinkin’.

Then it was back to Lake Monroe for the long Veterans Day weekend and our third Lake Mary market.  We had just “so-so” results, lower than the first two Saturday’s.  A year or more ago we would have been quite satisfied with the sales that day, but our expectations have risen quite a bit as we have increased our inventory and become more selective in our market participation.

PKM and her new friend the gopher tortoise

At least Veterans Day was a rousing success.  Quite a few restaurants and other businesses offer free or discounted meals and services to vets over the weekend, and we took advantage of this through several sit down meals and a car wash.  The highlight was Texas de Brazil, one of the better Brazilian style steak house chains, where Jackson and Andrea joined us for dinner.

If you have never tried this type of restaurant, I highly recommend it.   You pay a set fee for the huge salad bar (it has a lot more than salad) and then the wait staff brings different cuts of meat directly to your table and slices off a select portion based on your preferences.  I believe they had 16 different cuts of steak, pork, chicken, and lamb available.  My $50 meal was free, the rest of the bill was discounted.  If you have vegetarians in your group, or just someone not enthused about massive quantities of meat, they can choose the salad bar only option for significantly less, and it is a great meal in and of itself.

Our diligent monitoring of the Reserve America site paid off when we managed to secure a full week at Wekiwa Springs due to a cancellation, allowing us to finish off our Central Florida time at our preferred location.  We participated in our final Lake Mary market for this season, and it was straight out disappointing.  It is difficult to correlate sales fluctuations when so many factors can effect them.  It may be timing since we were far enough away from Christmas and too close to black Friday, or perhaps the “oh a new vendor lets check them out” effect has worn off.  Here’s hoping that our upcoming Naples market is better. 

We did a lot of geocaching in the area, just as we have at nearly all of our stops ever since Stepmom Marcia reignited my enthusiasm for it back in early September.  If you cache in an area enough you usually find a that a high percentage of the caches are placed by the same few hobbyists.  It’s always interesting to discover their patterns and tendencies.

Some of the caches are quite big, like this ammo can out in the scrub forest.

This time it was Bobby Bear whose hides I spent a lot of time searching.  His caches stand out in that he has a, shall we say, stricter interpretation of the difficulty ratings.  All caches are assigned a difficulty rating from 1 to 5, and a terrain rating on the same scale.  A 1.5 difficulty is usually an easy find.  Many of Bobby Bear’s: not so much.  Whenever I pursued one of his hides I mentally doubled the rating he assigned so as to have realistic expectations about how hard it would be. 

Others are pretty tiny, just big enough for a scrap of paper to act as the finders log.

Our geocaching took us as far south as Orlando, were we stopped in at yet another Moose Lodge for a drink before heading home.  I think this is our 26th Moose Center we have visited since joining up in Venice, FL years ago.  If you RV or otherwise travel a lot within the US, we recommend joining one of the various lodge-type organizations.  Being a member provides you with an additional option for social interaction, a place for very affordable drinks and food, and some of them have RV spots either free or very cheap. 

Next up:  Down to Coral Springs for an unusual Thanksgiving.

46 Months Fulltiming: October 2018 Report

The Distance:  855 miles, way less than our huge September route, but a solid amount of movement as we explored The Panhandle, Central Florida, and part of the Southern Gulf Coast.  In 2018 we are up to 9,141 miles.

Zig Zagging our way across the state.

The Places:  We entered Florida on the 1st of the month and stayed five days at Topsail Hill State Park where Dad and Marcia are work camping.  It was our first stay at this excellent state park, but the red tide was strong during the latter half of our stop.  From there we headed east to Tyndall Air Force Base’s Family Camp, planning on a three day visit, but had to evacuate a day early as Hurricane Micheal came straight for us.  We fled east to Gainesville, staying with Cousin Robb and family for four days before backtracking a short bit to stay at yet another new Florida park, Gilchrist Blue Springs State Park for a full week. 

At Topsail before the red tide became a bit too much to enjoy the beach.

We began our Central Florida rounds with a move to Grand Lake RV Resort near Ocala in order to be positioned for the annual McIntosh Festival at which we had recently been accepted as vendors.  After that it was back to one of our favorites in the region, Trimble Park near Mount Dora for five days.  Unable to extend our time there, we went to our go to weekend spot for this area, Lake Monroe County Park.  We closed the month with a run south east to Venice to visit Rose’s mom, Gloria, and other family members.

The dog costume parade at the Lake Mary Market.

October saw us in public campgrounds and with family for the majority of our days: 18 days in public parks (12 state, 6 county) and in the homes of family for 8.  We stayed at a military park for 2 days and a private resort for 3.  We had full hook ups for 10 days, partial (electric and water) for 13, and the aforementioned house living for 8. 

The Budget:  Despite a few very successful market days, we ended up 65% over budget, almost the exact amount of our big repair and upgrade bill from Mr Mobile RV.   That also puts us over budget for the year for the first time, and by an amount that will be very difficult to claw back with only two months left.  Normally I think we could do it with a bit of an austerity plan and more aggressive market participation, but the remainder of 2018 includes a full month at one of our most expensive parks, and there is a major holiday coming up as well.  Yes, Winter Solstice is spendy for everyone, I’m sure.   Ah well, we will get as close as we can. 

We have done A LOT more geocaching ever since being re-inspired about the hobby by Stepmom Marcia back in September.

The Drama and the Improvements:   As reported here, we did some major work at the very end of this month.  We originally planned on just replacing the main awning fabric, fixing an awing strut, and doing some roof seam calking.  But our front A/C failed and the guy I trust to do honest work recommended we not just nurse our 11 year old roof along with seam filling, but rather reseal the whole thing.   Which we did, it looks fantastic, appears to be easier to keep clean, is reported to be helpful in climate control, and comes with a renewable warranty.  So yes, we think we made the right decision, but it did cost us!

Our monthly reports so far this year:

January Monthly Report

February Monthly Report

March Monthly Report

April Monthly Report

May Monthly Report

June Monthly Report

July Monthly Report

August Monthly Report

September Monthly Report

And here are our 20172016, and 2015 annual summaries which include monthly report links.

To the Southern Gulf Coast: Venice, Gloria, and some big things for Serenity

The day after our first of four Lake Mary markets we headed south to visit Rosemarie’s mom in Venice, a seaside town an hour or so south of Tampa.  We have visited many times, going back years before our RV life, enjoying a few very welcome consistencies: bacalaitos upon arrival, a steady flow of other Puerto Rican food during the stay, and one or two local restaurant meals.  This visit would provide all of that in spades.

PKM managed to find a gap behind Gloria’s kitchen counter, and covered in cobwebs, required assistance to get out. 

Each visit there are often changes.  This last Spring saw Gloria moving in to her own house in a mobile home community.  During that visit we helped get things squared away both inside and in the garden, and I sold a bunch of her excess items on craigslist to provide her more space and a bit of extra cash.  This visit Gloria introduced us to her new steady, Jerry.  Upon arrival in town I parked Serenity in the usually empty lot beside her house, which the park manager allows me to do for $5 a night as long as we make no connections.  We got ourselves and the cat situated inside Glorias home, and then headed over to Jerry’s for the aforementioned bacalaitos.  Oh yes, and also to meet the man. 

An ever blooming orchid of some type we brought for Gloria’s Birthday.  When the bloom falls off, another one is right behind it ready to open.  In theory.

We had a great five day visit; Jerry was very welcoming and we enjoyed his company.  We spent part of an afternoon lounging by his community’s large pool complex, hit a couple of thrift stores, and had dinner at one of their preferred spots, Bogey’s, a local sports bar with excellent food and service. 

For Gloria’s birthday Jerry took us all out to one of our favorites: the upstairs dining room at The Crows Nest.  Our timing was poor as Gloria had been coming down with something that peaked that very day, but she wanted to soldier through rather than reschedule, so we did. 

We also attended the pot luck Halloween dinner and dance at Jerry’s community center, costumes highly encouraged.  We settled on something we had pulled off to great success years ago in Miami Beach: Dia de los Muertos “sugar skull” make up with clothing flourishes to match.  Our horror make up kit was of far lower quality this time, so we were a bit disappointed with the results, but it was enough to win the costume contest!

Still in full make up, we capped the evening with a visit to the local Moose Lodge.  For years, since well before we were full time RVers, the Venice Lodge had played a central role in Gloria’s social activity, and our visits usually included multiple stops there.  In recent years not so much, but we have enough fond memories of the place (and appreciation for the affordable drinks!) that we try to stop in at least once each visit to the area.

We met another of our kind at The Moose.

Backing up a bit: the morning after our arrival I drove Serenity half an hour further south to Mr Mobile RV Center in Port Charlotte.  Bill did a small bit of work on our rig 18 months ago, and at a later point provided over the phone technical advice free of charge.  I was impressed with his honesty and work quality, and resolved to use him for repairs and upgrades if at all feasible.  Since then he has shifted from a purely mobile operation to a fixed location with mobile response capability.

Weeks ahead of our arrival I had made arrangements for him to have parts and time available to replace our torn main awning and one of the strut brackets, fix our front AC, which had stopped even trying to come on, and inspect the roof, which given the age, climate, and appearance, we expected would need a good bit of Dicor sealant work on the seams, at a minimum.  Upon arrival he did an immediate inspection, and said I could nurse it along and put a bunch of tubes of Dicor on it after a thorough cleaning, but he strongly recommended a roof reseal using the relatively new silconized elastomeric material, the main thing he works with these days.

Damn that roof looks nice!

Reviews on RV websites confirm the advantages of this material:  a more reliable and long lasting roof (which Bill warranties for a full year, extendable each year he provides a $75 inspection and adjustment) it is easier to clean because things tend not to stick to it, has better interior coolness due to high reflectivity, and gives the roof a very neat and uniform appearance since elastomeric reseals are seamless.  The roof has been my biggest concern for a while now, so we sprung for this full reseal.

New vent fan and vent pipe cover.

Within four days he called to let me know everything was done and Serenity was ready for pick up.  He had replaced the AC motor, installed and repaired the new main awning, replaced the crank up TV antenna with a fixed bat wing (per discussion), and for no extra labor charges installed a new vent fan cover, black tank vent pipe cover, and a rear running light reflector to replace damaged or missing ones.  We got all this for $2,220, all in.  Yes, that will put us way over budget, but it needed to be done, and we are very happy with the work.  We plan on working our annual repairs and upgrades into our future Venice visits. 

New fixed TV antenna.

The last night of our stay we headed to the local bowling alley to watch Rosemarie’s brother Jerry (yes, this will continue to be confusing) play in a league match.  Nephew Dj and niece Laura were also there, so it was a fun family event, and I learned a lot about bowling in general and league play specifically. 

So that’s it for Venice and for October, putting us only 28 days behind assuming I get the end of month report out quite soon.  After that, we return to Central Florida for three more Lake Mary markets while bouncing between Wekiwa Springs State Park and Lake Monroe County Park.

PKM loves Gloria’s patio.