Monday, March 30, 2020

Anchors away!



March 26, 2020—It is no secret that I was not an enthusiastic RVer when Jim and I purchased our first motorhome in December 2010—hence, my blog’s name, The Reluctant RoVer. Over time, however (and really, not a lot of time), I came to look forward to our travels, despite all the melodrama some of our RVs have given us. (OK, our misadventures  really only occurred with in our first and especially our second motorhomes, not so much in last three.)

So, you might be wondering if I harbor any reservations about joining the Jacksonville Boat Club. The short answer is "no." For us, it seems to be a good deal. And as long as we use the membership regularly, it is money well spent. The only thing I don't like? (You might be surprised at my answer.) The water.
Here I am, Cap'n Linda, piloting the Nauticstar. 
Yep. The water. Actually I love to swim--in a pool. I am not too fond of swimming in open water. And I am especially uncomfortable as the water beneath me becomes deeper. What bothers me most, however, is traveling fast in a boat and crossing over wakes and waves. I am afraid we will tip over! Why don't boats have seat belts? (Duh, I understand why...but I would feel more secure if I were battened down.) Jim is good (and getting better) at managing those waves and wakes; so am I when I occasionally drive the boat. I am also more comfortable going slow, rather than fast. I suspect that the more I go out in the boats, my fears will decrease. Let's hope so. 

The boat club gives us access to five different fishing boats, ranging from a 16’ boat to two 23’ boats, and we can take them out six days a week. No mess; no fuss; no cleanup; no maintenance. All we have to do is bring our fishing gear, jump on board, and pay for the gas when we are done.  

The larger boats are big enough to take five or six guests. (They would not be comfortable if everyone were to fish, but for a boat ride, they would be fine.)

My favorite boat of the five is the Nauticstar XTS, a 23’ bay boat with a Yamaha 200 HP engine.  I like this boat because of its size and comfort. It easily absorbs the shock of plowing through wakes and waves. Additionally, it has a very shallow draft—only 18”—so we can get into the marshes easily to hunt predator fish.  It also has a power pole anchor for shallow-water anchoring, as well as a GPS trolling motor, which can hold the boat in place in deeper water.

Nauticstar XTS
23' Nauticstar XTS; 5 passengers. 
Jim and I both like the smallest of the boats, the Key West. Although it is only 16’, it has an economical 60 HP engine, as well as a GPS trolling motor. It is small, but we enjoy using it.

Key West
16' Key West; 3 passengers. (Obviously this is a stock photo. Those people are not younger versions of Jim and me.)
Our third favorite, I think, is the Tidewater, a 20’ boat with a 150 HP engine.  It also has a GPS trolling motor, but we have found this accessory a bit more cumbersome to use than the ones in the other boats.

Tidewater
20' Tidewater; 5 passengers. 

The 19’ Scout can hold more passengers (six), but it doesn’t have a GPS trolling motor. Nor does the 23’ Polar, which can accommodate seven passengers. Why is the absence of a trolling motor important? Well, that little electric motor can act as an anchor and hold the boat in place while you are fishing. You don’t have to throw an actual anchor overboard.
Polar
23' Polar; 7 maximum passengers

Scout
19' Scout; 6 maximum passengers
I don’t know if I will ever become a boating enthusiast--someone who would rather spend time on the water than anywhere else. Just as I would not go to the beach just to soak up the sun, I don’t get much pleasure out of just going for a drive in the boat. I am enjoying the freedom we have to go find fish, instead of waiting for them to come to us. (So far, we have been catching flounder...nice.)

Although we have the boat club membership, we still have our modest 14’ Port-a-Boat with its little 5 HP engine. Our intention right now is to use this little boat on area lakes or more inland rivers, where we cannot use a JAX Boat Club vessel. (The club’s boats are allowed to go all the way up to Cumberland Island in Georgia to the north and as far south as St. Augustine.) But freshwater fishing in in the future. Right now, we are just enjoying our boat club membership and learning how to fish the Intracoastal.


Until next time,
Your Reluctant RoVer (Merry Mariner?)


Linda





Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Merry Mariner?


February 12, 2020—Ah, what could be better than feeling the wind in your face, watching pelicans dive for their supper, dipping a fishing line in hopes to catch your own dinner, and watching dolphins dive “up close and personal?” Not much.


Jim and I decided that life is much too short not to enjoy it to the fullest. This week we joined a boat club, and now we can feel that wind, watch those birds, dip our lines, and seek out dolphins just about any time we want—from the bow of a boat on local waters.


 We have toyed with the idea of purchasing a boat (more than the 14’ Port-a-Bote that we own) for some time. But, like an RV, boats require a lot of tender loving care. TLC translates into a lot of expenses. It is said that the two happiest days for boat owners are the day they buy a boat and the day they sell their boat. That is because in addition to the purchase price of a boat, there are costs to maintain in, fix it, store it, and equip it. Plus, you have to figure in the time it takes to launch, take it out of the water, and clean it.


A membership into a boat club eliminates all of the negatives of boat ownership. It’s like joining a country club: There is one-time “initiation fee,” then monthly dues. Not inexpensive, but not too bad, either. We make a reservation for the boat we want, drive down to the marina (only about three miles from our house), and climb aboard. A club employee meets us, helps load our gear, and when we return, greets us at the fuel station and unloads the boat into a waiting cart. Our only additional cost is gas.
View from the boat to the marina

Out on the San Pablo River

In a creek off the San Pablo River. Gorgeous day.


Our particular membership is for weekday use, for any boat 25’ and under, including both fishing and pleasure boats. And if we have guests who would prefer to tube rather than fish? The club provides the recreational equipment. Nice.

We took out a 16’ fishing boat this afternoon. Before we could do that, however, we each had to complete an online boat safety training program. (We probably didn’t have to do this, since we already had certification from the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary for a different boat safety program, but we decided a safety refresher of our knowledge couldn’t hurt.) 

Then, yesterday, we went out with Captain Randy, another club employee, who trained us in navigation, as well as how to drive and dock the boat. (I docked it perfectly three times:]) Incidentally, it was during that training that a large pod of dolphins decided to accompany our boat. So exciting! We've often seen dolphins cavorting in the waters of the St. Johns River, but they were never so close to us as they were when we were in the boat. 

I hope that having a boat will allow us to go where the fish are, instead of waiting for them to swim by our lines at the end of a pier. (Today, when we found some fish according to the fish-finder, but they weren’t hungry. We had a great time, anyway, since our goal was mainly to get comfortable with navigating a boat.)

What all of this means is that the Reluctant RoVer may have to get a new moniker. How does the Merry Mariner sound?

Until later,

Your Reluctant RoVer Merry Mariner,


Linda

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Windy


December 17, 2019—Not even the sunny, warm skies of south Florida are immune to cold fronts. One is moving in today, and with it has come a lot of wind and slightly dropping temperatures. Tomorrow the high will only be around 71, as compared to about 80ish today and yesterday.

Early this afternoon, we did some exploring and found the Venice fishing pier, as well as Caspersen Beach in south Venice. The wind, however, was problematic. The normally calm gulf created crashing waves that were not conducive to fishing. At Caspersen Beach, we thought we saw people looking for sand fleas (a crustacean) for beach fishing, but we discovered was they were looking for shark teeth! Apparently that beach is known for the teeth.
Our campsite at Oscar Scherer State Park near Venice, Fla.

It was much too windy to fish on the pier (maybe tomorrow), so we high-tailed it back to the creek at Blackburn Point where we fished yesterday. We had few real bites. I finally caught a toadfish, which we threw back. (Toadfish can be toxic if not cleaned properly, but we have eaten it before. It’s all in knowing how to clean the little beastie to make it safe to eat.) Because the fish swallowed the hook and we could not disengage it, we had to cut the hook off. Hopefully the little guy survived.

As the clouds continued to come in and the temperature dropped a bit, we called it quits for the afternoon.

Around 5 p.m., we decided to try fishing the fresh-water lake, using lures. It took Jim about 10 minutes to tie on a lure. (His fingers didn’t want to cooperate tying the tiny knots.) Finally, he took the pole and cast out into the still water. A few minutes later, as I was reeling in my own lure, he stood next to me. Why wasn’t he fishing? On his first cast, he caught a tree; the tree won.

Our “fish dinner” tonight consisted of delicious homemade spaghetti sauce, noodles, green beans, and salad. It was excellent.

Until next time,

Your Reluctant RoVer,

Linda

Monday, December 16, 2019

On the 'left coast'


December 16, 2019—Last week I was in Palatine, Ill., enjoying the company of my daughter, son-in-law, and their teenaged children, and suffering whenever I went outside: When I left, it was around 20 degrees, and there had been snow flurries in the morning. I returned to Jacksonville to somewhat chilly weather (60s, but raw). After a few days at home, we loaded the camper and we are now in south Florida, on Florida's west coast, also known as the "left coast." 

The sun is warm; the sky is clear--sorry friends who are in the Midwest and are shoveling out of a heavy snow storm! 

We are camping at Oscar Scherer State Park, located in Osprey, which is next door to Venice, Fla. This state park is like an oasis in the suburbs. You can actually see a subdivision abutting it as you drive down the roadway! It is a nice park, although it does not have the fishing we thought it would. There is a creek that runs down its length, and there is also a closed-system fresh-water lake, which theoretically has fish. (We haven’t tried fishing in these two bodies of water yet.) The park offers a myriad of activities, from guided hikes to folk-music concerts.
The news today said that the Midwest was in the middle of a snow storm. The white in this picture is now snow; it is sand on a beach on the Gulf of Mexico in Venice, Fla. Highs were in the 80s, with low humidity and cloudless skies. 

Although the park doesn’t seem to have a lot of fishing onsite, it is located near the gulf and the intracoastal.

Before taking our poles out of the truck, we drove around to explore possible fishing sites. One of those was a jetty. Several anglers were trying their luck, but we didn’t see anyone catch anything except a hardhead catfish. Next to the jetties were some nice beaches. And yes, the sun was warm (around 80 degrees). I don’t know how warm the water was, but a lot of snow-birds were trying to get rid of their winter whites.

We stopped at a local bait shop and learned about a few places to drop our lines. We tried one spot, on a creek that goes out to the gulf. I caught a slightly undersized mangrove snapper; Jim only caught a tiny little pin fish. It didn’t matter; we had fun.

Tonight the park is offering another folk concert around a campfire. We intend to take it in.

We’ll be here until Friday morning, when we will go back home and prepare for a visit from my Chicago family.

Until next time,

Your Reluctant RoVer,

Linda

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Our catch of the day


November 6, 2019—Fishing is fun, even if you don’t catch anything. That’s a good thing, because on this trip, we fed a lot of fish, but we couldn’t lure any onto our hooks. We hooked two or three tiny fingerlings, but the big ones were evasive. Our freezer is empty.

We aren’t going home entirely empty-handed, however. We “caught” some delicious chocolate at the candy factory in Daytona Beach, which is less than 10 miles from our campground. The fudges and the chocolate-covered bacon are not as nutritious as fish, but we will savor their taste nonetheless. Everyone deserves some a good chocolate treat every once in a while.
Our catch of the day was chocolate, purchased from Angell & Phelps Chocolate Factory in Daytona Beach. Chew praline, rocky road, and chocolate caramel fudge, plus chocolate-covered bacon. Who needs fish when you can catch chocolate?

On another subject…

We continue to “shake down” our new truck camper. Like any new vehicle, we have found several things that need to be corrected. What has proved disappointing, however, is the dealer prep from Ocean Grove RV, where we purchased our truck camper. Just like when you buy a car, we had to pay a dealer-prep charge for the camper. We found that essentially nothing had been checked; we did not even get all the manuals for all appliances, such as the TV/radio/dvd sets. The TV and radio/dvd are supposed to be connected via HTMI, and share the six built-in speakers in the camper.

When we made our maiden voyage two weeks ago, we discovered that the sound on the TV was not loud enough. With the air conditioner on, we could barely hear the news. Because we had no instructions, I downloaded the manual for the Jensen devices. We followed directions, but still no good sound and no TV sound out of the speakers. I emailed the company; they suggested calling when we were in the camper.

Jim called today. After talking with the technician, he discovered that an HDMI cord had not been plugged into the radio/dvd appliance. This should have been done at the factory. Since it wasn’t, it should have been discovered and corrected during the dealer prep. It is fixed now, thanks to my husband, not Lance or Ocean Grove.

Despite small annoyances, we are enjoying our experience immensely in our new truck camper.

Tomorrow we return home. Our next camping trip, which will be to a state park on the west coast of Florida, is scheduled for Dec. 15.

Until then,

Your Reluctant RoVer,

Linda

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Not crabby about the weather


November 5, 2019—Cloudy, overcast, rainy skies. We are at Tomoka State Park, 60 miles from Jacksonville, south of St. Augustine, just outside the town of Ormond Beach. This is our second visit to Tomoka; we were here last year when it was cold, really cold. So we welcome the overcast skies with temperatures in the 70s.
We like this state park. The roads are sand, but they are smooth and well marked. The wash houses are large and very clean. The sites are private and not too close together. It has several spots on the shore of the Halifax River from which you can fish. And the state park has wifi! That in itself makes it a "keeper."
We dropped our lines at one of Ormand Beach’s public fishing piers on the Halifax River. It is a large pier that makes a complete circuit back to a nice, clean public restroom, and it offers a place to take a leisurely walk or a jog or (of course) to fish. This particular pier is built under a bridge, a natural place to fish. Many species lurk in the tannic water to seek out crustaceans that adhere to the bridge pilings.

Jim is talking to another angler who is fishing off one leg of the pier.




I'm guessing that the total span of this pier is at least a quarter mile. The far leg was under construction when we were here last year. 

Jacksonville has seven—count them, seven—bridges that span its rivers. How many fishing piers does it have like this one? Zero. Nada. Nil. None. If you want to fish under a bridge, you have to risk climbing rocks.
Jacksonville has the largest park system in the country. Many of these parks are on or near water. How many fishing piers does it have? You can count on one hand.
If a small town can have a great fishing pier, why can’t the biggest geographic city in the United States? Because Jacksonville’s government is cheap.
Okay. I’ll get off my soapbox now.
Last year when we came here to fish, it was very cold, but the fish were not biting. This time, they were biting—enjoying our bait—but we weren’t catching. I fed a lot of shrimp to hungry fish, probably catfish. I caught the tiniest catfish I’ve ever seen—about three inches long! Later I caught another species that was just too small to keep. Jim didn’t have any better luck, except he pulled in a surprise: a crab!
Although we have a crab trap, we haven’t used it recently. This crab latched onto Jim’s bait and didn’t let go when he hauled in the line. We kept it; it will be part of our dinner tonight, despite the fact that the crab only has one claw.

Poor little guy only has one claw. Nevertheless, he will supplement our differ tonight.
What’s on our agenda for tomorrow? Perhaps some surf fishing. We also may go down to Daytona Beach (about 30 minutes away) to visit a candy factory, which we toured last year. Some of the factory’s specialties include chocolate-covered bacon and chocolate-covered potato chips. Yum.
Fish in our freezer or not, we are having a great time on this short vacation.
Until later,
Your Reluctant RoVer,
Linda

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Shark feast!


October 23, 2019—We returned home today from a great three-day shake-down “cruise” at Little Talbot Island State Park. Our dinner? The shark fillets I had soaking in milk overnight.

A milk marinade takes away any fishy taste and smell, and is especially necessary with shark. We learned that shark must be killed and bled immediately after being caught, to avoid tainting the meat with uremic acid. (Sharks urinate through their skin.) Jim did this on the beach and cleaned the fillets when we got back to the campground. I put them in a milk bath, where they stayed until I was ready to cook them.

How to cook shark? Google answered that. I found several recipes, which served as a basis for our evening meal.

I took one shark fillet and cut it into small one-inch chunks. After arranging the chunks on a plate, I placed a small pat of butter on each, sprinkled them with a creole seasoning, and topped them with shredded parmesan cheese. To cook them, I popped them into the microwave and zapped them for about 90 seconds. They came our juicy, tender, and delicious!

The second fillet I decided to coat in fine gluten-free panko crumbs, mixed with parmesan and the same creole seasoning. I then pan-fried the fillet.

The verdict? Succulent. The meat was tender, juicy, and not at all fishy tasting. In fact, if I were to serve it to someone without telling them what it was, they wouldn’t even know it was fish!
We have caught several sharks when we have gone surf fishing. Some species are protected, but many are not. In the future, we will keep whatever we can.

Until next time (which should be the week of November 4),

Your Reluctant RoVer,

Linda