Back to Venice and Sarasota for repairs to Serenity

Our electrical problems, if anything, were getting worse.  What had been occasional losses to the 50 amp were now consistent, the automatic steps no longer worked even with a bit of carefully timed physical assistance, and the 12 volt system in general was inoperative without shore power, and even with power a number of things did not work.  Having exhausted my limited knowledge, perhaps even making things worse with my efforts, it was time to bite the bullet and let the pros deal with it.  After a bit of research I found a decently reviewed shop in south Sarasota that could get us in on short notice.

So we regretfully said goodbye to Sanibel and headed north, dropping Serenity off at Campbell RV with a list of half a dozen things to address.  Bill and Gloria took us in for a couple of days while we waited for what we hoped would be a quick and affordable set of fixes possibly covered in part by our Easy Care extended warranty.  In the meantime, we ate like kings at the Bayba’s, combining Gloria’s Puerto Rican cuisine with Bill’s notable culinary skills.  We had a great feast when Bobbi and Steve, Bill’s daughter and son-in-law, joined us for dinner.

Aside from that it was thrift shop hunting time at Venice and Nokomis’ many stores.  On the third morning I drove up to Sarasota, picked up Serenity, hooked up and took the rig down to Oscar Sherer State Park in Osprey before rejoining Rosemarie at the Bayba’s for Bill’s excellent grilled sausage pizza.

As for Serenity: huge improvements.  The 12 Volt problem was a popped circuit under a control panel shield that I did not know existed.  Once that was reset, the 50 amp problem also went away.  I suspect the 12 volt system has some role in controlling the transfer switch or something.  They found a ground in the automatic steps, repaired a broken awning bracket, rewound the awning retraction spring (when I replaced the rear awning arm, I had been unable to wind it to the full appropriate tension,) and unstuck my water filter.  I had a bit of excitement when I went across the road to hook up and drive away: no one mentioned that they are in the habit of disconnecting both the start and house batteries using the two switches near the stairs, so I thought everything was dead and broken until they sorted me out.

So the good news was that they fixed a lot of stuff and it didn’t take them much labor time or require any significant parts to do so.  The bad news is that without a component failure, the Easy Care policy covers nothing at all, so we had to cover the full, nearly $500 bill.  Lastly: by the time I got to Oscar Scherer whatever they had adjusted on the steps failed again, and we currently have to ghetto up the stair area and use a cooler as a step in order to not have a two foot drop.

A one day stay at Oscar Scherer is not nearly enough to enjoy it, particularly when you arrive late and want to get on the road the next day at a decent hour.  One new thing we learned while there though is that the row of sites that back up directly onto the South Creek are “no pets allowed “spots; I think its because of liability issues related to how much alligators enjoy playing “hide and seek in my mouth” with small dogs and cats, but I’m not certain.  So unless you plan on working around this in some way, pet owners will need to avoid sites 68-98.

Our last two days in Sanibel, then a return to Naples for our best market ever.

We had enjoyed four great days in Sanibel to close out November, and started the last month of the year off right with two more days on the island.   This place gives us a sense of contentment, and we relished a couple more days of shell hunting, great pizza,and casual campground happy hour with “The 49ers” (unofficial name for the regular RVers at Periwinkle, so names for the number of RV spots.)

And then we hit the jackpot when we stumbled upon Sanibel’s annual Luminary Festival, held the first Friday of every December, miles of bike paths are lined with luminaries, and many of the merchants along the main route host events, usually with wine, cheese, and other snacks.  We took out bikes out as evening approached, had Champagne samples at Huxters, wine and cheese at McCallion & McCallion Real Estate, and half a dozen other nice stops before returning to Huxters for live music.  Lacking bike lights we called it an early night and walked them back to the campground.

We reluctantly left our favorite Gulf Cost park to return south for another go at the two weekend Naples markets.  We had mixed results that first weekend, with the Saturday Bed Bath & Beyond event being particularly slow while Pine Ridge Rd/Livingston on Sunday was one of our better performances.  A number of other vendors at both events reported that weekend was unusually slow, so we were hopeful that things would pick up for us now that the post Black Friday shopping exhaustion period had passed.

Non-nomadic vendors have the ability to assess market performance in their region over time in order to select the best fit for them.  We don’t have that luxury, and must make that decision often based on one visit supplemented by conversations with our vendor neighbors.  Even with some of the other sellers assuring us that the BBB event was usually better than what we saw on that first Saturday, we had almost decided that our second try would be our last, attending it only because we had already paid the steep $35 vendor fee. Fortunately, that second attendance produced far better results, with sales up about 80% from the previous week.  We can’t say for certain, but when we passing through Naples this coming March we might give this one another go.

After the market we stopped in again at Club Naples RV Resort (yes, that means we took the RV straight to the market, set up, then moved the rig to the back parking area) taking one of their standard 30 amp sites on the Passport America 50% rate for our two day stay. Though Club Naples is pretty ideally situated for our purposes and has some amenities, the spots are a bit tight, the standard site lots are dirt and weeds, and the internet was not up to speed that weekend, so we may consider another option for future stays.

On Sunday we took the tracker down to the Pine Ridge Road/Livingston event, which had been kinder to us on our first go round than BBB.  With the improvement from one week to the next we had just experienced, we hoped Pine Ridge would be particularly good that Sunday.  We were not disappointed, seeing a 115% improvement in sales, yielding our most successful event all year, even better than the first Marquette market on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.

With such improved sales we were a little freer with our own cash, purchasing a hefty amount of fresh bread products, another Cuban Sandwich, and a Christmas gift from one of the other jewelers.  We reveled in our sales that evening back in Club Naples, then it was up and on the road to Sarasota to drop Serenity off at for some repairs while we stayed with Rose’s mom Gloria and Bill in Venice.

23 Months Fulltiming, November 2016 Report

Wow, we are putting up this report only three days after the end of the month, our last post was about Sanibel, and we only left that location this morning.  Which means we are caught up to the day on this blog; I’m not sure that has ever happened!

The Distance: 977 miles, not exactly a slow month as we bounced around Florida visiting relatives for the holidays, but at least a slow down from last months’ more than 1800 miles.  December will see further reduced mileage as we settle in Central Florida for a few weeks before working our way towards Key West.  We are up to 9208 for the year, and I doubt we will even break 10K.

The Places:  Basically, we repeatedly ran along two legs of a triangle between SW, SE, and Central Florida, starting with a one night stop over at Club Naples RV Resort en route to Coral Springs.  From there it was up the east coast, pausing for a couple of nights each at Port St Lucie RV Resort and Patrick AFB’s Family Camp before hitting a new county park, Lake Monroe, north of Orlando.  We took a side tour up to Silver Springs State Park in Ocala before returning to what may be our new “go to” campground in the region, Lake Monroe again.  Then it was back to Coral Springs for Thanksgiving, across the state to Club Naples RV to participate in a couple of markets, and finally up to one of our favorite RV Resorts, Periwinkle Park on Sanibel Island.

We have gone four months straight without drycamping.  Partly this is because there are so many park options in Florida (and November is not yet peak season so there are openings,) but also because we found a great deal in Central Florida at Lake Monroe Park: less than $17 a night for power and water.  Oh yeah, also because its Florida, and its too damn hot to go without AC.  We had full hook ups for 13 days, electric/water connections for 9, and stayed in relatives houses for 8.  We were in private campgrounds for 8 days, public parks for 12 (9 county, 3 state), military facilities for 2.

The Budget:   A great month for our finances, supplemented as they were by five farmers markets.  We closed out 11% under budget for the month, which gives us a reasonable chance of being under for the year, depending on how December goes.  This was a mostly hick-up free month: only two full fill ups for Serenity, one reasonable medical bill, and a taxpayer subsidized low cost vet bill for PKM’s annual check up and shots while at Patrick AFB.  In addition to the five markets, our budget was assisted by the eight days of free parking at Xavier and Joy’s, and nine days at the very affordable Lake Monroe Park.

As for December, well, its gonna be tough.  We already have a $150 medical bill as part of our annual deductible (on the fiscal year calendar.)  We also expect to pay at least $250 when we take Serenity into the shop for various electrical work, and it might be more since the house batteries may need replacement.  And of course, there is some sort of minor holiday this month that involves expenses.  This is why we decided to go “all in” on markets until Christmas, hoping to offset some of these expenses.  We shall see!

The Drama:  Well, our electrical problems are back with a vengeance.  The 120 volt system doesn’t seem to work on a 50 amp shore power circuit and our 12 volt system doesn’t work at all when we are disconnected from power and not running a generator.  But these sort of problems pale in comparison to what we experienced in The Big Kahuna, so we are not worried, particularly since we have an extended warranty.  And speaking of Kahuna, I have had two people come out to look at him and several other calls or emails, so here’s hoping hes with new owners by the end of 2016.

The Improvements:  Nothing specific to the RV to report, but we have beefed up our vendor display kit for the various markets at which we sell Rosemarie’s jewelry.  We are using two full tables for display racks with more hanging from the tent frames.

Back in Sanibel!

Having just completed two farmers markets with the same two scheduled for the upcoming weekend, we looked forward to our six day stay at Periwinkle Park on Sanibel Island.  We are early enough in their season that we had no trouble reserving nearly a week stay, but once peak season hits in January this place gets really hard to find more than a few weekday openings.  Even during our stay we watched the place filling up with a couple of new arrivals each day.

The RV side of the park has very regular seasonal customers that are given first right of refusal on future reservations.  For those seeking more than a week here and there during peak season, you basically have to keep coming back to the park year after year such that you become known to the staff and eventually offered longer stays as openings occur. Such seasonal spots only open up due to changing circumstances of the regulars, and to be perfectly blunt about, that often means someone has died.  We have been coming for a few years, and that might be a factor in how easily we have gotten nearly week long stays these last couple of visits, but the cost is such that we are unlikely to pursue anything like a seasonal or even month long stay, particularly given the fantastic deal we get down at Key West.

But we plan on continuing a week here and there as long as we are RVing, and are grateful to be back again.  Our first day we did pretty much nothing but relax in the RV and recover from the weekend,  The second day saw a lot of rain so we didn’t get to enjoy the beach, though we made our traditional excursion to the public library for the free wifi and then a took a late lunch at Island Pizza, one of the few very affordable good deals on the island: two for one happy hour every day from 12-5 and $2.50 large pizza slices.

By day three we were sufficiently recovered and with cooperative weather, so I dropped Rosemarie off at her favorite shell hunting section of the Island, Bowman’s Beach.  The tide wasn’t ideal, but its almost impossible to go to Bowman’s and not find a few nice ones.  And as low tide progressed forward each day, by Thursday Rosemarie was willing to get up earlier than our usual leisurely hour for proper shelling at that prime location.

We took the downtime between weekend markets to work on a few projects as well. In addition to prepping additional jewelry for sale, I did some maintenance on both the bikes, including replacing both of my tires with salvaged ones from a bike being thrown out back Coral Springs.  My tubes had never quite recovered from having been punctured by a dozen thorns back in Idaho, and the green goo sealant put in them had now blocked the valve stem, so two free tires of a slightly larger width and tougher tread were a welcome find, as was the softer seat I took from the same trashed bike.

I made the mistake of thinking I could at least do a bit of troubleshooting of our electrical system, but not only did I fail to make headway, things actually got worse the longer I played with it.  We are, unfortunately, seeing a return of the degraded 120V system issues that we experienced before Horizon RV replaced our shore power cable.  I suspect that the bad cable was masking  other problems, such a a degraded converter and automatic transfer switch.

We hooked up in connections here in Sanibel and noticed that the rear AC and water heater, which are on the same breaker, were not working.  Once I started messing with the system, I “improved” things by making it so we had no electrical power at all throughout the RV.  Turning on the generator, however, returned not only power to the rig but even the rear AC and heater.  Remembering that we had experienced a weird failure of the 50 amp system in both Washburn, WI and Scott AFB in Illinois, but had attributed it to a bad pedestal and just used the 30 amp adaptor, I decided to try that little trick here and voila, power restored.  At that point I decided to leave well enough alone and just schedule a visit to the mechanic for what I suspect will be an automatic transfer switch replacement.

Keep in mind this is in addition to the complete loss of 12V power throughout the bus whenever we operate without shore power or the generator.  I am thinking the electrical converter/invertor is going bad, and the deep cycle house batteries might also be shot.  Ah well, time to let the experts work on it.

Oh yeah, I also suffered the loss of another coffee maker, putting me in dire straights until I came up with a jury-rigged temporary set up.

Finally, we made a bold purchase of an entire bin of pencil urchin spines for Rosemarie to turn into jewelry, most likely earrings and necklaces.  Look for some of those items to soon appear in her Etsy store and be on display at our various markets.

Shooting back across the state for back to back markets in Naples

Having been confirmed to participate in two Naples markets, we dragged our usually late sleeping selves out of bed at 5:00 AM in order to have time to finalize Serenity’s road readiness, hook up Loki, make the drive across Alligator Alley to Naples, find the market manager for spot assignment, and set up our displays before the 8:00 AM start time.  We usually try to avoid driving the big rig in the dark, but the nearly empty early morning roads felt a lot safer than a late night with the drunks, and dawn broke partway through our journey across the Everglades.

The market was impossible to miss as we approached the Bed Bath & Beyond parking lot, and given the hour there were plenty of space to lodge Serenity until we got the full scoop on our vendor spot and designated vendor parking.  They got us assigned in short order, and we pulled Loki as close as we could get to unload and set up.  We have our system down pretty well and can have the basics done in 15 minutes.

The Naples BB&B market used to be a well established event, but shut down for a couple of years and has only recently restarted, and was charitably described as still building up.  It had perhaps 25 vendors and a modest throughput of potential customers.  Perhaps due to bad timing as it was the day after Black Friday, but there seemed to be a distinct lack of willingness to browse up close or even make eye contact compared to what we are used to; and by noon we were seriously concerned about even covering the $35 vendor fee with our slim sales.  But we had the usual end of event rush and closed out with a modest profit.

We headed back to Club Naples for the night.  While I have not toured any other options in the region, all of my research suggests that they are the best value resort we can get near Naples, so they are our go to spot until I learn of something better.  Our assigned site was a lot tighter to get into than our last stay.  While the premium pull through sites are of decent size, the standard back ins are packed in a bit tight, and the position of the neighbors rigs and vehicles made it a bit of a challenge, but with Rosemarie’s expert signalling we puled it off with only one adjustment after our initial backing maneuver.

We enjoyed the clean facilities and free high speed wifi for our one night stay, but the next morning it was up early again to connect up our rig, get a bit of gas for Serenity, and make the short drive to the Pine Ridge Road Sunday market.  As soon as we pulled up we could see it was a much bigger event than the BB&B market.  Over 70 vendors were already set up with customers browsing half an hour before the scheduled start time.  This looked promising!

We had made some adjustments to our displays, and set up in our assigned spot between a woodworker and flower pot maker.  From the moment we had our table ready we had customers doing more than just walking by and averting there eyes.  We cleared the table fee within an hour or so and ended up with one of our better profits.  During the course of the event Rosemarie did most of the selling while I ran some errands, checked on the cat, and rearranged our RV park stays for the next few weeks.

As a much bigger event than the BB&B market, we had a much larger selection to choose from for prepared food and produce.  The bread and pretzel man nearby, the true to tradition Cuban sandwich vendor, and two of the produce stands yielded an excellent meal and take home things for our cupboard and fridge.   Next week it might be the Turkish style lamb pizza for lunch. So many options…

After we closed up shop for the day just after 2 PM, we jostled for loading position with the other vendors’ vehicles, hooked up and headed north on I-75 for the short ride to Sanibel Island and a six day relaxation and rejuvenation period before the next weekend’s events back in Naples.  It wont all be lounging about or collecting shells; we have a couple of projects to do and need to restock the displays with additional jewelry for the upcoming Naples markets.  Stop by and say hello if your in the area next weekend!