Smartini’s First Land Adventure: New York City

Loyal Readers will recall that we recently sold the boat formerly known as Smartini (renamed “Vahevala” just last Saturday) and that we’re now hoping to do a lot of extended-stay land adventures. As to the title of this post, “Smartini” has always referred to Butch and Fran (Smith and Martini = Smartini) since long before there was a boat with that name, and will continue to refer to us. One day, we may buy a house and name it Smartini, but we are Smartini, and Smartini is us. Got it?

Anyway… with us being on the boat for five years, and my son (Fran’s step-son) Bennett being in college for those same five years, we haven’t been able to spend very much time with him for far too long. So we fixed that: we spent a month in New York City, where he recently graduated from college and now lives, so that we could get some quality time with him.

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May the Boat Cat

May was with us for more than 5 years. This is a celebration of that time.

Me: “Bennett, what’s this black cat doing in the house?”

Bennett: “Oh, that’s May. You know, from Mom’s house. Since Mom sold the house, she can’t keep May anymore. She’ll only be here until we can find another home for her.”

Me: “Yeah, I know who May is. Well, I guess she can stay here until we find her a good home.”

And so began our five year relationship with the best kitty ever. (You may think you have, or have had, a good kitty, and I won’t argue. But May was the BEST kitty ever.) We never found another home for her, because, to be blunt, she HATED other animals, and everyone we knew who would love to have her already had at least one other pet. After a few months of trying – and a few months of her sitting on my lap for what seemed like hours every day – one day I said to Fran “Well, I don’t suppose it would be horrible to have her on the boat.”

Feb 2016, a couple months after she moved in to the Indy house. Looking at this picture now, it should have been obvious that we were going to be her forever family.

So she came on the boat, and became “May the Boat Cat”. (Also known as MayMay, Maybelline, Sweet May, Maybelle, “our sweet little old lady cat”, The Princess, sometimes The Queen, and my personal favorite, Honey Bunny.) The first time she set foot on the boat, it took her all of about 6 seconds to settle in. We brought her in during a driving rainstorm, set her on the floor, ran back to the car for another load of stuff, and when we returned, there she was, stretched out on the carpet with a “yeah, this will do” air about her that never changed over five years.

Well, she didn’t love EVERY minute of boat life. There was that first time she made a long crossing – about 8 hours, from Florida to the Bahamas, March 1, 2018. It was a bit rough, and before too long, this pretty little black kitty looked positively green. By the end of the rough part of the day, she was stretched out on the cool clay in her litter box, with her tongue slightly hanging out, and drooling a little. Think of your worst New Year’s Day hangover.

But the next day, off we went for another 10 hours (on totally flat seas, thankfully), and she behaved as if the day before had never happened. And that’s pretty much how she was for most of the 4,000+ miles she was with us on Smartini: over a year in Florida, 8 months in the Bahamas, 4 months in Turks and Caicos, many months in the Virgin Islands, and all the way to Grenada and back, with a stop or two in every island nation along the way. Oh, sure, once in a while, when it was a little rough, she’d give us her famous stink-eye as if to say “You couldn’t have waited for a little nicer weather?”, but most of the time, she was just sleeping in one of her comfy spots, whether the boat was moving or not.

Perfectly at home on the water. With our almost-niece Abby, in Grenada.

She began life as Maddie and Bennett’s cat, at their mom’s house in Indianapolis, when Maddie was 7 and Bennet was 4. She was an indoor / outdoor cat there, and we would see her outside sometimes when we would pick up or drop off the kids, but for all those years, she was just a cat at someone else’s house. That changed in December 2015 when the exchange between Bennett and me, above, occurred. The change started slowly, but it wasn’t long before Fran and I grew very fond of this little old lady cat.

I am pleased to say that she loved me more than anyone else. I don’t know why, though. Fran did EVERYTHING for her – fed her, kept her litter box clean, cleaned up after her when she horked up a hairball, bought her toys, bought her favorite hangout (the “Treat Perch” – more on that later), and in the last year, would make tiny bites of whatever she was eating to satisfy May’s very-late-in-life interest in human food. But although May clearly loved Fran, she would get up from Fran’s lap and the petting she was receiving to come sit on me, as soon as I sat down, nine times out of ten. Fran was “the help”, and I was her human. I am so very lucky.

May made a lot of friends in her five years with us, but I don’t think anyone was a bigger fan than Benjy Ellis, who we met while cruising the Eastern Caribbean. He lives with his parents Jason and Kim on their sailing catamaran, Mimzy. Benjy would come onto Smartini for the express purpose of spending time with May, and she loved it!

Benjy and May. She loved her time with you, Benjy!

However, in a very, very close second place comes Zoe Fisher, who came all the way from Australia with her parents, Claire and Anthony, to spend a week with “May the Cat”. (Zoe thought that was her name, and called her that all week.)

This picture is from a 30 second video of Zoe playing with May with the “feather on a string”. May played, but she never moved from her spot, and really never did more than lift her head and forepaws. She was, shall we say, an “efficient” player.

We said, many times during her stay with us, that she had virtually none of the bad habits that many cats have, and that she did exactly what we both wanted from a cat – sit on our laps when we wanted her to, and let us pet her. She never insisted on that (although she would often suggest it!). She never knocked things over just because she could. She was fully clawed, but rarely scratched anything other than the carpet (which we hate anyway). Until a few months ago, she rarely made a sound – if she said “meow!”, you better see what was going on, because it was unusual. She didn’t have the loudest motor in the world, but she purred almost all the time when she was on your lap and/or being petted.

May “suggesting” that I should put the computer away and pet her.

She had a particular dislike of dogs, which I guess shouldn’t be surprising, but she did grow up with a dog (Maddie’s “Skip”). Just after we arrived in the Bahamas in March 2018, we met some people on another boat and invited them for dinner and dominoes one evening. They brought their little dog Bailey, who was very well behaved – didn’t even eat May’s food. We put May in our room while they were there, and all was well. The following morning, May was in our room meowing up a storm, which was VERY unusual for her. We couldn’t figure out what was wrong – she had food, she had water, what could it be? But Fran dumped out her water bowl and washed it, then refilled it and set it down. May drank like she had been in the desert for a month! Bailey must have drank some of her water, and May did NOT want to drink from the same bowl that a slobbery dog drank from! From that point on, we never talked to her about a dog without saying “slobbery dog”.

One minor flaw: she did have Bitchy Resting Face, or as we liked to call it, Stink Eye. As you can see in the picture below – a picture taken when she was perfectly happy, I can assure you – she could make you feel as if you had done something so horrible, so loathsome, that you didn’t deserve to be breathing the same air as her.

Stink eye!

During the five years that she was with us, she wasn’t with us all the time. She lived with Susan and Rami in Indianapolis for a few months in 2016. Susan was the one who discovered that May hated to sit on bare skin! She would put a thick towel on her lap in the middle of summer so The Princess could sit on her, and not be grossed out by Susan’s bare legs. May lived with Robin for several weeks when we lost Maddie. Robin learned first-hand how temperature-driven May was, in her very air conditioned apartment, when May would sleep right on her chest, staring into her face with a “does it have to be SO COLD in here?” posture.

With Susan. No bare skin in Indy in November!

We weren’t always on the boat, either. Paul and Denise flew all the way to George Town, Bahamas from Minnesota in May 2018 to spend a month on the boat with May, while we went to Italy. Brian The Pet Sitter cat-sat with her in Key West for a few weeks in November 2017. A woman (whose name escapes me – maybe because she let May escape the boat!) cat-sat with her for a few weeks in the US Virgin Islands in 2019. Peter the Turtle Man (manager of Nassau Harbour Club Marina) cat-sat with her for a few weeks in Nassau, Bahamas. (We paid one of the dock hands to do it, but Peter liked May so much, he came onboard twice a day to sit with her and give her treats.) In Grenada, Lamar cat-sat with her for a month in November 2019. In all these cases, it went like this: the sitter came onboard the first time and sat down, May hopped in their lap for petting and treates, and they were buddies. She was like that.

With Lamar, who came onboard twice every day for a month to look after Sweet May.

After she had lived on the boat for a bit, Fran noticed that there was nowhere May could sit and see outside. She searched online and found a window perch for a cat, and put it in one of the side windows, but May wasn’t interested. Fran was determined, and by then, May had already become quite a big fan of Friskies Party Mix and Temptations, so Fran used these treats to lure May into the perch. May quickly learned to love the perch, in part because it was a soft place to sleep in the sun, but also very much because she had a good chance of someone giving her a few treats if she sat there long enough and looked cute.

“Well, what are you waiting for? The treats are right there!”

Speaking of cute… if you aren’t a cat person, skip this paragraph, OK? You’ll want to vomit a little, probably. But when May would curl up in the Treat Perch, or in one of the chairs, or on the floor, or especially in your lap, in a perfect circle, with one paw over her nose, and her tail covering most of her face… she was SO DAMNED CUTE! But she never let us get a picture of that perfect moment – she would wake up and move just before we could snap the shot.

Could she be any cuter? And all she’s doing is sleeping. We never tired of seeing it.

You might wonder what it was like doing all the paperwork and jumping through all the hoops necessary to get a pet into all of those countries (18 in all). Well, you’d have to ask someone else, because we did it only once, and it was such a nightmare that we decided to simply not declare her again. And we didn’t. She never left the boat*, so it didn’t matter anyway. Many countries wouldn’t even ask on their forms. Some did, but didn’t follow-up with a question asked by an agent. Some did, and I would just lie. Sorry. Throw me in jail for cat smuggling.

(* She did hop off the boat several times in the marina in Turks and Caicos, but that was the one country into which we legally checked her in. She also escaped from the boat in the US Virgin Islands for a few days while we were gone, but there’s no special requirement for a US citizen to bring a pet into the US Virgin Islands. And yes, she did hop off the boat in San Salvador, Bahamas for just a few minutes, but our story in the Bahamas, if asked, was always going to be “We picked her on the dock in Freeport – she’s a Bahamian cat.”)

I mentioned that May was already 14 years old when she came to live with us, in December 2015. (Coincidentally, the same month we bought the boat.) Yes, she was an old lady: 19 in cat years is the equivalent of 94 in human years. But until literally yesterday, no one would have guessed her to be of such an advanced age. She didn’t look old. She didn’t act old. She had her sight and her hearing, and she was a good jumper (almost always in the case of jumping onto a lap sitting in a tall chair).

She had no trouble jumping into my lap on the tall captain’s chair. I bet she did it a hundred times.

Almost a year ago, right after the COVID situation started heating up, we were in the Virgin Islands, and May had pretty much stopped eating. We took her to the vet on St. Thomas, who did some blood work and determined that her kidneys were failing – a common malady among geriatric cats. But the vet showed us how to administer fluids “subcutaneously” (with a needle under her skin), and told us that some cats can live for many extra years with this treatment, to make up for what the kidneys have stopped doing. May, being the best kitty ever, took that needle under the skin and 200 ml of saline solution every four days since then, and almost never complained about it. Her appetite returned – and then some! For the first time ever, she started to act interested in what Fran and I were eating. Eager to get her to eat anything, we started giving her small bites of our chicken, beef, pork, fish – all of which she eagerly devoured – except the fish. That developed into her only bad habit – begging for food at the table. (Sorry, Chris – you saw her at her worst in this respect.) But hey, she was an old lady – let her have what she wants! (As Fran has said many times, “When I’m 94, I hope someone lets ME eat cake for dinner!”)

Cuddling with “the help” in one of the dozens of different beds we slept in this summer.

This summer, back in the US, and with the boat “hauled out” for hurricane season, we bought a used minivan and started touring the country. With our limited experience of having May in the car (she didn’t like it!), we would have liked to have left her with someone, but we couldn’t ask anyone to take on the “stick her with a needle and administer 200 ml of fluids every four days” routine. So Fran made a rolling version of the Treat Perch in the van, between the front seats, and off we all went! 15,000 miles, 34 states, at least 20 friends’ homes visited, and May was with us the whole time. Florida to Maine and back to Florida. Then off to Texas and Colorado and Nevada and California and Oregon and Idaho and Indiana and all the states in between. May would typically be restless and mouthy for the first hour or two each day on the road, but would eventually settle in and sleep like the dead for most of the last several hours. The only bad stretch was our one overnight, from Houston, TX to Fort Collins, CO. She never settled in, and was still unhappy and restless and mouthy when we finally pulled into a rest stop for a nap at 5:00 a.m. One of the longest nights of my life. But it was worth it to have her with us all summer.

Helping with the driving of the 15,000 miles to 34 states this summer.

Because of her hatred of other animals, and because many of the friends and family we visited have other animals, she was often relegated to the bedroom we were using. Which wasn’t bad – being an old lady cat, she slept all day anyway. But when our hosts had no pets, and she could have free reign of a house, she seemed to truly enjoy it. Her favorite place was Beth and Pat’s place in Maine – a large, two-story-plus-attic home built in the 1890’s. She would come down from the attic covered with cobwebs, and looking totally pleased with herself.

“Beth and Pat, your attic is now free of cobwebs!”

At Susan and Rami’s house in Indy, she really wanted to go outside, so we tried a little harness and leash. Yeah… that didn’t work out so well.

“I’ll just sit here until you take this ridiculous thing off of me.”

In early November, while visiting friends Dean and Kim in Idaho, Fran noticed that May was suddenly acting a little strange. Almost as if she couldn’t see everything that was going on around her, surprised when we would walk up to her to pet her. The next night, in a hotel room in Wyoming on our way to Fort Collins, CO, it got worse, and by the time we arrived in Fort Collins the following day, it was obvious – May had become totally blind! We were at Fran’s sister Ingrid’s house, and Ingrid has a house full of pets, so she has a great and long-term relationship with a local vet. She called, and we were able to get May in that same day. Yep, she was blind, alright. One of the problems with feline kidney failure is high blood pressure, which we didn’t know, but which May had. And one of the problems with high blood pressure in cats is “hypertensive retinopathy” – detached retinas caused by high blood pressure. They gave her some BP meds and sent us home, with at least the hope that the retinas would reattach and the vision return. Those were some sad hours, sitting with her, knowing that she must be totally confused about why her world was suddenly completely dark, and not knowing if it would ever be any better for her. There were tears shed, I don’t mind telling you. But the blood pressure DID come down, and the retinas DID reattach, and within 36 hours, she was seeing almost normally again! To say that we were happy would be the understatement of the year. We were overjoyed, knowing that our little old lady May was back to normal, and no longer suffering. Although through it all, she never made a sound, never reacted badly when we would pick her up – she just stared around the room, with eyes that wouldn’t see. It was one of the saddest things either of us have ever seen.

We arrived back in Florida after Thanksgiving, and still had to put the boat back together after the summer’s haulout. Our friend Chris offered his spare bedroom to us, and all three of us were happy to take him up on it. We ended up spending seven weeks there, enjoying Chris’s amazing cooking and hospitality, most of the time with May having the run of the house, which she enjoyed immensely. But she had picked up another slightly annoying habit of waking us up about 6:30 every morning to be fed. See, it’s really hard to give a cat a pill, but May needed a tiny little pill of BP medicine once per day. With advice from dear friends Curt and Sondra, we started giving May the cheap Publix canned food, and putting her little pill, all crushed up, into the food. (They have a 20+ year old cat who wouldn’t eat ANYTHING until they tried the Publx food, and now she eats 3 cans a day!) Well, May LOVED IT! So every morning, when her little kitty brain told her it was time for breakfast, she was on the bed, walking over both of us and letting us know, in no uncertain terms, that one of us needed to get up and fix her breakfast NOW! (Which we did, because, you know, she’s a little old lady.)

We were very comfortable at Chris’s house for the last seven weeks.

A week ago today, we finally got the boat back in the water, and two days later, we all moved back onboard. It took May a day to settle in, but she did, and for about three days, all was good. She was back in the Treat Perch a dozen times a day, sitting on our laps for petting in the evenings, and yelling for us to get her breakfast ready at 6:30 a.m.

And then yesterday, Fran noticed that May was acting a little weird, and in fact, saw her having what looked like a mini seizure, a couple of different times. Last evening, we saw it again, so this morning, we took her to the vet. (The aforementioned Curt is a vet in Melbourne, FL, about an hour up the road from where we are in Ft. Pierce.) After an exam and some blood work, Curt called with the bad news. Her kidneys were on the verge of total shutdown, and there was nothing we could do that would restore her to normal. She could have a blood transfusion, and hormone therapy, but even that would only prolong her life, not restore the quality of it. So an hour later, after a last long bit of cuddling and petting and telling her how much we loved her, we said our final “Bye, May”. And she went to sleep on my lap, where she had spent so many countless hours over the past 5 years, and we cried.

February 5, 2021

If you want to look at a couple hundred pictures of May, we’ve shared this Google Photos Album, May the Boat Cat. None of them are spectacular images, but we sure are enjoying looking at them today.

The Virgin Islands

Once again, Faithful Readers, I find myself apologizing for such a long wait for a new post. I can only imagine how many of you must wake up each morning and think “Today’s the day – a new post on Smartini Life – I just KNOW it!”. (I imagine that the number is zero.) At any rate, my apologies.

Arrival / Reunion Drinks with Whitey and Max

Smartini arrived in Charlotte Amalie, one of the largest settlements on the island of St. Thomas, in the US Virgin Islands, on the afternoon of March 28, just two days ahead of our first guests, Steve and Challen. Friends of ours, Max (Maxine) and Whitey, who we met in Key West after Hurricane Irma, and who run the charter sailboat Nutmeg, were anchored there, so we joined them, anchoring on the West side of Water Island. We promptly put Killer in the water, picked them up from Nutmeg, and went ashore to Tickles, the bar/restaurant at Crown Bay Marina, and proceeded to celebrate our arrival in the Virgin Islands, and our reunion, as it had been over a year since we had last seen them.

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2018 – The Year in Review

After a creative explosion in October and November (7 blog posts in about two weeks), I fizzled out. But I’m going to get 2019 off to a good start, with a recap of, and some reflections on, the Big Adventure so far. Also, one picture of each of our guests this year!

With Bennett and May in March

As you probably know, we left the US early in the morning on March 1, 2018 (not as early in the morning as we had planned) bound for the Bahamas, and made it all the way to Freeport before the sun set. We didn’t really want to be in Freeport (not much there that we wanted to see or do), but we ended up staying there for five nights, waiting for decent weather for the next leg of our journey.

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How a 4 Cent O-ring Can Change Your Life

This is the story of a plain ol’ rubbber O-ring, about 2 1/2″ in diameter, that probably cost about 4 cents to make, and how it just changed the lives (at least in the short term) of six people and three boats. If I told you the WHOLE story, it would read like “War and Peace”, so I’ll give you the Reader’s Digest version.

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Visit Report: Paul and Denise

Faithful readers of Smartini Life know that the crew of Smartini went to Italy for three weeks in May/June. What they probably don’t know is that two wonderful people stayed onboard Smartini for that time, and more important, took care of May the Cat. They are Paul and Denise Magnus. We met them almost two years ago when we took Smartini to a marina in Titusville to have some work finished. They lived on their boat, Orion, in that marina, and we became friends. Sadly, Orion was destroyed by Hurricane Irma in that same marina, but thankfully, Paul and Denise were not onboard.

When we were making plans for Italy, we knew it would mean leaving Smartini and May somewhere, in someone’s hands. We posted on one of the online boating groups that we were looking for a cat sitter and a boat sitter. Denise saw the post and almost immediately volunteered her and Paul – wow! They would fly all the way to George Town in the Exumas and live on Smartini, and take care of May, and Fran’s new Tower Garden – and asked nothing in return.

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Crew of Smartini Goes to Italy!

In case you’ve been wondering what the crew of Smartini (Fran and me, but not May the Cat) has been up to lately – we went to Italy! For two weeks with Bennett (my son, Fran’s step-son), and Bennett’s mom, Terri Henderson (yes, that’s my ex-wife – we get along great these days), then just Fran and me for another week.

I’d love to give you all the details, but in the immortal words of Inigo Montoya in The Princess Bride, “No, it’s too much – lemme sum up.” We left the USA on May 12 (Terri and Bennett from NYC, Fran and me from Miami) and flew to Rome. A few days there, then a few days in Venice, then a few days in Florence, then some more days in the countryside of Tuscany, a few miles from Siena. Terri and Bennet had to go home at that point, but Fran and I stayed for almost another week, driving a few days to Rome, and then flying to the island of Sicily for four days.

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Visit Report: The Aussie Invasion!

Anthony, Claire and Zoe

Lots of years ago (late 1990’s), I was traveling to Australia annually to help support the dealer of our dental practice management software there. He had a trainer – Claire – who was awesome, and at some point that neither of us can recall, we became fast friends. Since I stopped going over for business, she’s been to visit me (us) in Florida twice, and in 2016, Fran, Maddie, Bennett, and I visited her and her family in Australia. This year, it was their turn to cross the pond, and on May 28, Claire, her partner Anthony, and their adorable 5 year old Zoe came aboard Smartini as part of Anthony’s month-long 50th Birthday Celebration. Today, we sadly told them “bye!” This is the report of their visit. (Picture gallery at the very end.)

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Visit Report – Robin and Cathy, March 2018

Robin and Cathy on the deck at Sandy Toes (Rose Island)

Fran and I have known Robin since 2009 or 2010. Like most of our Florida friends, we met her through Crossfit. She’s been a dear friend almost since the beginning. She’s been to Indianapolis for Winterfest, so she’s met a bunch of our Indy friends, too. She met Cathy a year ago (they celebrated that anniversary while onboard, in fact), and Fran and I have been able to spend some time with Cathy during that time, so we figured she would probably make a good guest.

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Visit Report: Bennett’s Spring Break

Visit report and photo gallery from Bennett’s 5 day visit

I always wait way too long to get Visit Reports out, so I’m going to make this one short and sweet, and TIMELY! We sent Bennett back to NY yesterday afternoon. All the pictures from his visit are in a gallery at the end of this short post.

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Visit Report: Katie Stanhouse to Key West and Dry Tortugas

Katie is my almost-kinda-sorta niece. Actually, she’s the second child of my best friend since high school, Ron Stanhouse and his wife Liz, but I’ve known her since the day she was born (literally), and we’ve spent so many holidays together in the last 23 years, she and her older sister Abigail seem like nieces. Katie started her first post-college job last December, and in August, finally got some vacation time. Fran and I were thrilled that she chose to spend it with us on Smartini!

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Key West Intermezzo

An intermezzo is, according to Webster’s, “a short part of a musical work that connects major sections of the work.” Key West has been an intermezzo of sorts in my life.

It marked the change from the first 22 years of my life (mostly living at home, no college degree, not married) to the next major section (married, college degree, real jobs, eventually kids), as Terri and I honeymooned there in 1981, just weeks after we graduated from Indiana University, and just before moving to South Bend, Indiana where I would start my first real job.

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First Official Visitors – Dee and Heather

Two days after Smartini finally made it to Marathon in the Florida Keys, our first real guests showed up for four days. (Sorry UCB, Curt, Sondra, Robin, Cathy, and anyone else who’s spent the night on Smartini – until we made it to the Keys, it hasn’t felt “official”. Very much enjoyed, but not official.)

DedeAnn is Fran’s best friend since middle school in Southern California. Heather is one of my absolute favorite humans on the planet for reasons too numerous to list. They live in Fort Collins, CO, coincidentally where Fran’s sister Ingrid lives, so we get to see them whenever we visit there, but it’s not often – once or twice a year at most. We’ve been eagerly looking forward to their visit, especially since neither of them had ever been to the Keys before.

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Unexpected Fort Pierce

Our six month stay in Fort Pierce is over. A lot of unexpected things happened while we were there!

A week ago, Fran, May, and I steered Smartini out the Fort Pierce Inlet, turned south, and if things go according to plans (which they almost never do!), we won’t see Fort Pierce from the deck of Smartini ever again. Not that we didn’t like Fort Pierce – we actually liked it quite a lot. We just hope to spend the rest of our time on Smartini farther south.

A lot of unexpected things happened while we were in Fort Pierce, starting with the main reason we were there in the first place – the need to completely re-do the “down to bare metal” paint job on the bottom of Smartini. As I’m sure I’ve written before, we had a total bottom job done right after we took possession of the boat in January 2016. With routine cleanings, and a new coat of anti-fouling paint every year or so, it should have lasted 8 – 10 years. Instead, it didn’t last 8 months. In short, it was done badly, and by the time we hauled the boat out of the water for another reason in mid-December 2016, there were already good sized patches of bare metal showing, and hundreds (thousands?) of little water-filled paint bubbles all over the bottom. Unexpected Thing #1 – we’d have to haul out again and completely re-do the bottom job – and this time, we’d do it ourselves, to make sure it was done right.

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