February Road Trip – Part 2

Our February road trip started out with plans to visit Gary and Ellen in Gulf Shores, AL. In February Road Trip – Part 1, I talk about our stops on the way there. In this part I talk about Gulf Shores, AL and Gulf Island National Park.

Gulf State Park

We get up early to get a good head start. We did as much as we could last night to be ready to leave. We drive to the day-use parking lot and hook up the tow car. We don’t need to dump because we have a full hook-up site tonight.

We stop at a Flying J for gas. It has two RV lanes. There is an RV filling up in one and a small pick-up truck in the other. I get behind the pick-up truck. This is the wrong choice. He’s not there. He went inside to use the bathroom, and is waiting in line to buy a Pepsi and then pumps his gas. We can’t back up because we have the tow car. We wait about 30 minutes, and now have to pump gas in the rain.

We get to Gulf State Park at 1:30. We crossed over into Central Time Zone, so we gained an hour. Check-out here is 2:00, so we have to wait while they make sure our site is empty. We disconnect our Honda while we wait.

We back into our site, and it feels more like a neighborhood than an RV park. All the roads are paved with paved sites and neat lawns. Camping here gives you free access to the fishing pier and free parking on the beach. There are many trails here for walking and biking.

We drive to Publix, get some appetizers, and head to Gary & Ellen’s beach house for sloppy Joes and Super Bowl.

We are in this site for only one night. We move the RV to our next site and walk around the park. We visit the nature center and then hike on some trails.

Gulf State Park
Gulf State Park

We go Walmart, and then to Gary and Ellen’s for happy hour. We go to the Crazy Cajun for dinner, but there are no customers so we go to the Oyster House instead. We have Oysters on the half shell, fried crab claws, flounder and popcorn shrimp. The food is good, but a little pricey.

The next day we go to the Farmers’ and Fishermen’s  Market in Foley with Gary and Ellen. We buy shrimp, salmon, oranges, eggs, cabbage and honey. We go to lunch at Wolf Bay Lodge. We get shrimp and grits, sweet tea, and salad bar for $10 each. Excellent.

We walk to the end of the fishing pier. Then Gary and Ellen come to the RV for happy hour.

We fill the fresh water tank and move to another site. We go to FloraBama for some beer and oysters. This is a busy, fun place. We walk on the beach.


Gary and Ellen come to the RV and we cook hamburgers on the grill.

On Thursday we go to Publix and then to Gary and Ellen’s to do laundry. We visit and eat chili. It has been a great visit.

Fort Pickens

We have three nights reserved in Fort Pickens Campground in Gulf Islands National Seashore. It’s only an hour and a half from Gulf Shores, but we feel lucky that we found a site for the weekend. We leave Gulf State Park at 10:35 and get to Fort Pickens at 12:35. We have to cross a toll bridge. It is $1 on our Sun Pass. Once you get to the park entrance it’s about three miles to campground registration, then another mile to the campground.

Fort Pickens Campground
Fort Pickens Campground

Our site is small. The roads and pads are asphalt, and are surrounded by sand and grass. We back in as far to the left as possible so we can put out our awning without hitting trees. We back in as far as possible so we have room to park the Honda.


We go for a walk around the campground. We see armadillos digging in the dirt. We walk on the Florida National Scenic Trail to the fort and look around.

The next day we drive to Peg Leg Pete’s for lunch. This is a very busy restaurant. We have oysters, shrimp and gumbo. Very good. We drive into town, to Joe Patti’s seafood market and buy grouper and oysters. We take our seafood back to the RV and walk on the beaches. First, the gulf, then the sound. We make blackened grouper for dinner. Excellent!

It starts raining and rains all through the night and next day. No good for outside activities. The rain put a damper on our weekend. This is a really neat place and we have to come back again.

February Road Trip – Part 1

When we found out our friends, Gary and Ellen, rented a house in Gulf Shores, AL for the month of February, we looked for a nearby campground. Gulf State Park is just down the street. Despite having 496 sites, there were no sites for a full week, or even three consecutive days. We did find five days in three different sites starting on Sunday.

Gulf Shores is about 814 miles from Marathon, so we decided to stop twice on the way. We booked two nights at Ortona South Campground, an Army Corps of Engineers park in Moore Haven, FL, and two nights at Manatee Springs State Park, in Chiefland, FL. We estimated that the first leg would take four hours, the second leg would take five hours and the last leg would take six and a half hours.

Ortona South

The day before our trip, we go to the RV to turn on the refrigerator and load some stuff. We disconnect the chassis battery when in storage, so we connect it and try to start the engine. It doesn’t crank. It won’t even jump-start. The battery is only year and a half old. We bought it at Walmart. We go to NAPA and buy a new battery for $161. We install it and it starts right up. The steps are not working again and the leveling jacks are giving us an alarm. We reset the leveling control panel.

We pick up the RV the next day at 9:00. Fran has a hair appointment so we drive to Winn Dixie parking lot.

After her appointment, we hook up the Honda CRV and take off. We stop at a service plaza, on the turnpike, and get to the Ortona South Army Corps of Engineers’ campground at about 5:00.

Ortona South Lock and Dam
Ortona South Lock and Dam

This is a very nice campground. It has 51 sites, with concrete pads that are large and spread out. It’s quiet and far from the main road. In fact, we thought we were in the wrong place when we turned in, because we could not see the campground. The campground is on the Caloosahatchee River. There are some nice trails to walk, you can fish and watch boats go through the lock towards Lake Okeechobee, or the Gulf of Mexico.

Ortona South Campground
Ortona South Campground

The camp host tells us that the water here is very hard. We hook up our On the Go water softener, but we don’t put any in our tank.

The next day we cook breakfast outside, and walk around the park and watch boats go through the lock. I clean the electrical contacts for the steps and they are now working again. We have a nice campfire in the evening.

Manatee Springs State Park

Then next day we drive to the dump station and dump our black and grey water. We hook the Honda to the tow bar and leave at 9:10. The GPS suggests two routes. We take the second choice, which is shorter distance, but one minute longer. It takes longer because of all traffic lights.

Manatee Springs State Park
Manatee Springs State Park

We get to Manatee Spring State Park around 3:30. We walk around the park. There is a place that sells barbecue they smoke themselves. We buy a half chicken and a rack of ribs ala-carte and bring it back to the RV for later. Then we walk around and see some manatees. These are small compared to what we are used to seeing in the keys. We go to Walmart, we buy stuff to make cole slaw, because the cole slaw at the barbecue place is too sweet for our tastes.

Deer in Manatee Springs State Park
Deer in Manatee Springs State Park

This is a very busy campground. They have 92 sites, which are full. The sites are sand. We have a back-in site with 30 amp electric and water. The water spigot leaks, so we fill our water tank and turn it off. The Verizon wireless signal strength here is low. It’s good for text messages, but not phone calls or internet.

There are lots of trails here. We hike on the scenic trail, with a self-guided tour, about three and a half miles. We walk around the campground and see lots of deer. They are not afraid of us. We have a nice campfire.

Tomorrow we drive to Gulf Springs, AL.

Garmin RV 770-LMT-S GPS

We bought ourselves a Garmin RV 770-LMT-S GPS for a late Christmas present. We wanted it for both route planning and navigation on the RV. We decided on this unit for a number of reasons.

At first we used Google Maps on the RV. We use Google Maps all the time when driving our car, but for RVing it has some shortcomings. It doesn’t work without internet, it underestimates driving time and it routes us in ways that are not ideal for a 31′, class A motorhome. Then we started using Good Sam’s Trip Planner for route planning. This was an improvement over Google Maps. It gave us more accurate driving time estimates, but it still required internet and didn’t provide any navigation capability.

We read some articles to see what other RVer’s used. We found several options out there. There is a Good Sam’s GPS and a Rand McNally GPS that work with the Good Sam’s Trip Planner. There is also a Garmin GPS for RVs. It works with a trip planner called Base Camp, that does not need internet to work. We use Garmin products on our sailboat, Questeria, so Garmin seemed like it might be less of a learning curve.

All the products we looked at seemed to be missing features that RVer’s think are important. Then we saw that Garmin would soon release a new product, called RV LMT-770-S, that includes some of these features. We decided that that was the one we wanted.

On February 20, 2017, the RV 770-LMT-S GPS was not available, but they were taking pre-orders.  We ordered ours from The GPS Store for $399.99. We received it on March 24. In the meantime, we downloaded Garmin BaseCamp, but it is not useful unless attached to a GPS.

The GPS arrived on March 24. We updated the software and maps by attaching it to the computer USB port. After that, we created a vehicle profile for the RV. It was pretty straight forward.

We were already deep into planning our summer RV trip when we got our new GPS.  (See our page Summer 2017). We wanted to transfer the information to the GPS. We looked to see if we could export the data from Good Sam’s Trip Planner directly, but it wouldn’t work with Garmin. We ended up redoing it from scratch on the Garmin. Much to my surprise, I found it easier to do our planning right on the GPS than on the BaseCamp, PC software.

Features of Garmin RV 770-LMT-S

The GPS has all the features you expect. You can find places by name, address, type or coordinates. It will route you based on your preferences and vehicle profile. For example, it won’t route you under bridges lower than your RV height.

Where To?

The GPS has a database of locations such as restaurants, gas stations, attractions, shopping, rest areas, etc. It also has RV parks and RV services. You can find your destination in many ways. Most of the time we search for things by category and name. In the rare case where it doesn’t know the name, we specify an address. You can also look up Saved and Recent places.


The GPS includes free map and software updates. You can update by connecting to a WiFi network or a computer USB port. When connected to the computer, you use an app called Garmin Express to update. It’s all automated. If connected to WiFi, you go to Settings, and Updates.


You can connect your phone to the GPS through Bluetooth. Once connected, you can make phone calls and get notifications on your GPS. You can even get live traffic updates using the Garmin Smart Link app on your phone. On a recent trip to Delray Beach, the GPS rerouted us because of lane closures on the FL turnpike. That worked out great.

Driver Assistance Alerts

The GPS has customizable Driver Assistance. You can be alerted to things like speed limit changes, schools, curves, steep hills, etc. You can also set a Fatigue Warning, which will suggest stops after driving for over two hours without stopping.

Trip Planner

We use the Trip Planner feature a lot. You start by adding a start location and destination. It calculates a route, which includes fairly accurate distances and driving times. You can then add locations in between and it will keep calculating distances and driving times.

Map Display

When driving, and following a route on the GPS, it will alert you to a number of things, like speed limit changes, school zone, sharp curves and steep grades. It also shows your speed, the speed limit and highlights it in red when you are exceeding it. It shows you arrival time, distance to your next turn and which way to turn. When you get to an area where lanes split, it will tell you which lane to be in and highlights it on the side of the display. It also shows notifications from your phone, like text messages and phone calls.

A voice tells you about turns and which lanes to be in as well. It’s simple, specific and easy to follow. For example, it might say “Be in the second to the right lane.” or “Turn right at the end of the road.”.

I’ve gotten so I use it even when I know where I’m going.

Voice Commands

The GPS accepts voice commands. You can do just about anything using voice commands. This works well if there is no background noise, but if there is a lot of road noise it doesn’t always work.


We downloaded and installed Garmin BaseCamp on our PC. This app is very much like Garmin HomePort, which we use for nautical routing and navigation. You must attach the Garmin GPS to the computer with a USB cable to use the app. It uses the detailed map from the GPS, but does its own routing, which is slightly different from the GPS. It has a trip planner tool, but We found it harder to use than the trip planner tool on the GPS itself.

One feature I like about this app is the ability to read the tracks from the GPS, store them on my computer and see where we have been on Google Earth.


There is nothing to installing the GPS. It comes with a 12 volt plug that plugs into the RV dash. We tried using it with a splitter, but had problems the splitter falling out and the GPS powering-down while I was driving. The GPS comes with a stick-on mounting bracket,  that didn’t work for us on the RV. We bought a Garmin Portable Friction Mount. That works well for us.


We have been using the Garmin RV 770-LMT-S GPS for almost a year now and our overall experience has been great. We usually double-check it with Google Maps and most of the time it routes us the same or better. Google Maps is better at routing us around detours or traffic, but doesn’t consider that we are driving an RV.


One of the features of the RV 770-LMT-S is to add propane tanks to your vehicle profile. Having propane will restrict some of your routes. On some roads you must turn off your propane tank and others don’t allow propane at all.

When we planned our Summer 2017 trip, we planned to cross the Chesapeake bridge/tunnel. There is a restriction that you must turn your propane tank off. At first, we did not add a propane tank to our vehicle profile, and when we put our trip plans on the GPS everything looked good. Later, after we added our propane tank to the profile, the GPS refused to route us over the bridge. We had to remove the propane tank from our vehicle profile to get it route us correctly. Refer to page North Carolina-Maine, Lauren, DE for more details.

We continued on to New Jersey without changing our vehicle profile back to have propane. We added it back before we left the RV park. The route we were following had restrictions that you must turn off your propane. The minute we left the RV park, we got a notification to Shut Off Propane. We stopped in the road, got out and turned the propane tank off. The problem is that there is no way to tell the GPS that the propane tank is turned off. It continued to notify us to Shut Off Propane until we got to CT. Even worse, was that it told us to get off the interstate and take busy city streets around tunnels. Refer to page North Carolina-Maine, New York, NY, Day 5 for more details.

The propane issue is the biggest flaw in the RV LMT-S GPS. There needs to be a setting that says your propane tank is shut off. The only way we found to get around this is to  remove the propane from your vehicle profile and/or turn off the Shut Off Propane notification in Audible Driver Alerts. This doesn’t distinguish between restrictions of no propane and propane must be off.

GPS Hangs up on Notifications

This problem may have been related to the multiple propane notifications, since it happened right after that. On our way to Hingham, MA we were notified of a Sharp Curve Ahead. Instead of popping up and going away, it stayed on the screen for the rest of the trip. The GPS continued to route us, but we didn’t get any notifications of upcoming turns or speed limit changes, etc. We haven’t seen the problem after that.

Routing and Navigation Problems

The RV 770 LMT-S GPS is pretty good, but not always perfect. Sometimes it does not route correctly and we have ignore it. It could not route us into Wompatuck State Park, in Hingham MA, but neither could Google Maps. The problem is that some of the park entrances were closed to vehicle traffic. Even Uber and Taxi drivers had problems. We used directions on their website.

Another time, on the way to Ute Lake State Park, in Logan, NM, It told us to turn right when there was nowhere to turn. Then it routed us way out of the way to turn around. That time we used Google Maps and the directions on their website.

We have also seen where the GPS does not know about some back country roads. This happened in Ernul, NC where we are familiar with different roads.


We are happy with our purchase. I wish it had an option to say the propane tank is off. Another feature that would be nice is a notification if you exceed your maximum speed. I have set our to 65 mph because we are not supposed to tow our Honda CR-V any fast than that. But otherwise it does everything we need.

Delray Beach, FL

We are invited to spend Thanksgiving with Jim and Nancy, in Delray Beach, FL. Adam, Katie and Ava will be there, as well as Katie’s two sisters and their families. We reserve a site at Del-Raton RV Park, in Delray Beach, FL, for Tuesday thru Monday.

We have an appointment to get the oil changed on Monday. We get the RV out of storage on Sunday and park it at the marina. We get the oil changed and fill the gas tank.


It’s been a while since we hooked up our Honda CR-V as a tow car. We made a checklist, but we can’t find it. We have to do it by memory. With our headsets on, I back the RV into the marina parking lot and Fran pulls the Honda up. I extend the Blue Ox Tow Bar and attach it to the Honda. When I extend the arms of the tow bar, both of the rubber boots pop loose. I attach the Safety cables, the light cable, and the break-away cord.

We run through the sequence in the Honda owner’s manual for towing. We start it up, shift through all the gears, shift to drive and run for five seconds and then shift to neutral and run for three minutes. While running, I pull the accessory fuse. But I pull the wrong fuse. I go to put that fuse back and drop it. We can’t find it. I pull the right fuse, and put it in the place of the dropped fuse.

The first few time we used the Blue Ox Patriot Braking System, we drained the Honda’s battery, so we bought a Lithium battery with a 12-volt socket. We get the Lithium battery and turn it on, but it is discharged. We plug in the charger. We plug the braking system into the Honda’s 12-volt outlet, but this is on the accessory fuse, so it doesn’t work.

We start the RV and test out the brake and turn signal lights. We pull forward to let the tow bar arms extend and lock into place. One side locks, but the other side refuses to lock and the RV is pulled up to the street, so we can’t go forward anymore. We find some zip-ties and attach the rubber boots on the tow bar arms.

Our Lithium battery is charged enough to set-up our braking system. We set it up and lock the Honda doors. We pull out on the road and stop to check that both tow bar arms are locked. They both are.

Fifteen minutes up the road we hear a beeping sound. We can’t figure from where its coming. We pull over to the side of the road. We don’t see any warnings. We unplug the braking system control panel and it continues to beep. We unplug the GPS and it continues. We shut off the engine and it continues. Then we check the smoke/CO detector, but we can’t get it open to remove the battery. We finally break it and remove the battery, but the beeping continues. We finally isolate it to the propane detector. There is a mute button. We press it and the beeping stops. We continue up the road.

Twenty minutes later the GPS goes out. We fiddle with it, but can’t get it back on. It must not have been plugged in all the way, and the battery ran down. We get a route on our cell phone.

A while later, the GPS is charge enough and comes back on. We pull into the first service plaza on the turnpike to check everything and have lunch.

The Lithium battery powering the braking system is discharged, so it is running on its internal battery, and in break-away only mode. We take it to the RV and plug it in to the charger. Everything else checks out good.

We get to Del-Raton RV Park and check-in. We get a nice pull-through site for six nights at $47/night. This is a very nice, clean park. It is family owned and run and the people are friendly and helpful. It is located close to the beach and shopping and about 15 minutes from Jim and Nancy’s house. The entrance and exit are gated and we get a key card, for which we must leave a $10 deposit. We are close to the train tracks and the trains sound their horn going by. You can also hear road noise from US 1 and Dixie Hwy. Other than that, this is a great location.

We unhook the tow car and set up camp. I go to Auto Zone, across the street and buy a 7.5-amp fuse and zip ties for the rubber boots on the tow bar.

I used to live in this area between 1979 and 1988. We drive by my old house. The neighborhood has gone way down. My old house has broken windows, some are boarded up and other fixed with duct tape. Some of the houses are completely boarded up in the front.

We drive to Lantana Beach They have installed parking meters now. It cost $1.50 and hour. We drive down A1A and stop at Two Georges, in Boynton Beach for drinks and appetizers. Then we drive to Delray Beach and have wings and drinks at The Sandbar, on A1A.


Fran rides with Katie to Orlando to pickup Adam and Ava at the airport. I drive around and look at where I used to work. The buildings are there but IBM and Siemens have moved out. I go to the grocery store and buy things to make sweet potato casserole and green bean casserole. Then we go over to Jim and Nancy’s for dinner.


We make sweet potato casserole and green bean casserole. We have a wonderful Thanksgiving dinner at Jim and Nancy’s.


We meet Katie, Adam, Jim and Nancy at Little Havana, in Deerfield Beach. This is the restaurant we want to cater the rehearsal dinner, so we try a variety of foods. Everything is really good. Next, we go to the Embassy Suites for a tasting for the reception. We also look around the hotel. It is very nice.

We go back to Jim and Nancy’s and get ready to go to 26 ° Brewing Company, in Pompano. This is where we will have the rehearsal dinner. The whole family comes. The kids have pizza and the adults have flights of beers. We make arrangements for the rehearsal dinner.


Fran drops me off at Jim and Nancy’s, so I can hang out with the guys and small children, while the women go to a bridal shower for Katie. We watch college football and play with the kids. After the shower, the women come back and some friends visit. We play Monopoly. We say goodbye and thank everyone for a great weekend.


We do laundry and work on the steps. I replace the control module and clean the connections. The steps are working now.

We drive to Boston’s on A1A, in Delray Beach for lunch. New England Patriots are playing Miami Dolphins, and it’s really loud and busy here. After lunch we walk on the beach. It’s a little chilly or us, but the beach is crowded.


We fill the Freshwater tank to 1/3 and dump and flush the black and grey water tanks. The grey water tank still shows 2/3 full. We hook up the Honda CR-V and turn in the gate key-card at 11:05.

The GPS is giving us weird directions home. We ignore it and get on I-95 South. Now it knows how to get us home, but the power keeps dropping because it’s plugged into a splitter with the braking system control panel.

We stop at a service plaza at 12:40, check everything and have lunch. Everything looks fine. I unplug the braking system control panel and plug the GPS in without a splitter. It works great now.

We get to Marathon at 3:00. We pull over and unhook the Honda. The Lithium battery shows 100% charge. We unload the RV, and take it back to storage.

Hurricane Irma

Tuesday, September 5

We are in Pagosa Springs, CO, with Robert and Angela. We parked the RV in their driveway. The leveling jacks are not working.

We wake up and look at the National Hurricane Center website. It looks like Irma is headed straight for Marathon. Robert and I book flights to Fort Lauderdale. We make arrangements with Mark to get a ride to Marathon so we can haul out our boats.

We drive to Albuquerque. On the way to the airport, I get a notice that there is a mandatory evacuation order for the FL Keys tomorrow. We park the car in Albuquerque airport and get on a plane. We stop in Dallas. We cannot find any reasonable return flights.

We call Captain Bruce, in Marathon. He says he can take both boats to be hauled out at Marathon Marina and Resort, where we have a haul-out contract. We decide to abort the mission and fly back to Albuquerque, but we can not get out until the next morning.

Wednesday, September 6

We get on the plane in Dallas and are out at 8:00am. We have a lay-over in Las Vegas and get to Albuquerque around noon. We drive to Taos and meet Angela and Fran.

Bruce gets Questeria to the boat yard and they haul her out.

Questeria Being Hauled-Out
Questeria Being Hauled-Out

Thursday, September 7

Bruce evacuates. Questeria is out of the marina, but we have two dock boxes and two vehicles that are still there. Our Honda 2000 generator is in one of the dock boxes. We call George and ask him to move the generator to Robert and Angela’s storage shed.

Big Barn Dance
Big Barn Dance

We go to the Big Barn Dance music festival and watch Irma approach Marathon.

Friday, September 8

We have a fun day at the Big Barn Dance. The last performers for the night are The Band of Heathens. They are the highlight of the day. Their last song is “Hurricane”. The lyrics are inspiring. It takes a lot of water to wash away New Orleans the Florida Keys.

Saturday, September 9

Irma is headed straight through Marathon, as a category 4 hurricane. We watch The Weather Channel. They keep telling us the wind and storm surge will be devastating. There is nothing we can do. We go to the Big Barn Dance and make the best of it.

Sunday, September 10

Irma is a Category 4 hurricane. The eye goes just west of Marathon. They see 130+ mph wind gusts. James talks to George at about 7:30am EDT. George is okay, but power is out and water is over the docks. Cell phone service goes out.

We drive to Pagosa Springs. Communication out of the Keys is almost nonexistent. We can’t do anything but worry.

We see a video , on Facebook, of our marina under water. All we can do is wait.

Monday, September 11

Irma has passed over the keys. We have no idea how we fared.

The RV leveling jacks are not working and the fresh water pump is hobbled together. Robert and Angela take us to get a new water pump and we go grocery shopping. We have an appointment to fix the jacks at Meyer’s RV, in Albuquerque, at 8:00am .

We drive to Albuquerque and park at a Flying J.

Flying J in Albuquerque
Flying J in Albuquerque

Tuesday, September 12

We hear from George. He is good. Everything got flooded, including his truck and our two cars. Our two dock boxes are gone as well. The good news is that  our friends are alive and well.

We get to Myer’s RV before 8:00am. They look at the RV and decide we need a new hydraulic motor. We agree to pay Fed Ex Red to get the part the next day.

We go to the KOA in Albuquerque.

We install the new fresh water pump. It works great.

We watch Irma destruction on TV, apply for a FEMA loan, look for a new car, and get a car loan approval. We find a car in Nashville, TN.

Wednesday, September 13

We wake up to text messages that there is satellite imagery available of the hurricane aftermath.

It looks like our boat is standing. It looks like the solar panels are laying on the ground, but the dinghy is there and still inflated.

Questeria is Standing!
Questeria is Standing!

We get a call from Bank of America. We have to redo our car loan application because we used our mailing address instead of our physical address.

We finish that and we get a call from Myer’s RV. Our hydraulic motor has come in. We get there by 10:30am. They finish up by 1:00pm and we are headed east.

We pay a $500 deposit on a 2014 Honda CR-V in Nashville. We want to get there by Friday. We make reservations at Two Rivers Campground in Nashville. It is next to Camping World and we hope we can get them to add the towing equipment to the car and RV.

Thursday, September 14 – Friday, September 15

We stop in the welcome center in Amarillo, TX one night and in a Flying J in Russelville, AR the next night.

Questeria in Boatyard
Questeria in Boatyard

Cell phone service is back in the Keys. We are getting lots of pictures. Our boat is standing, but we think we might have a crack in the hull. Our cars are definitely flooded out, but our two dock boxes have been found.

Many people are still without power. Marathon is under a boil water order. They are only letting residents in and there is a 9:00 curfew.

Questeria's Hull
Questeria’s Hull

Bonefish marina has some damage, but it survived a category 4 storm better than most people expected.

We get to Two Rivers Campground in Nashville and get a site for two nights.

We walk next door, to Camping World to find out if we can get the equipment installed to tow a Honda CR-V. They tell us it will be 2-3 weeks and $4000 – $5000. We are not real happy.

Saturday, September 16

We buy a 2014 Honda CR-V at Crest Honda in Nashville, TN. We go to Caney Forks for lunch. We are hearing that the boatyard where Questeria is hauled-out is telling people they are going to start splashing boat on Tuesday.

Our 2014 Honda CR-V
Our 2014 Honda CR-V

Earlier, we had watched a YouTube video and decided that we did not want to install the equipment ourselves. But now we think that that’s what we are going to have to do. We order all the things we need on amazon.com. It costs $2300 and the parts should  be shipped to Jerry’s by Thursday.

Sunday, September 17

We drive the RV and the Honda to Jerry’s house in Athens, TN. We park the RV in his driveway. We have to use leveling blocks to level it out. We plug into his electric and run the A/C.

Monday, September 18 – Wednesday, September 20

We are waiting for our parts. We drive the Honda down to Chattanooga to visit Gary and Ellen for a few days.

Parts start to arrive on Tuesday. We drive back to Athens early Wednesday.

We start working by 8:00. The first task is installing the base plate. We start by removing the front bumper.

CR-V with Bumper Removed
CR-V with Bumper Removed

Next, we install the base plate, which replaces the bumper. Then we wire the tail lights to the four-pin plug and install the break-away switch.

Setup for Towing
Setup for Towing

We get it back together and cleanup by 6:30. We need to test it out but we are too tired today.

The boatyard called and left a message on my phone. They want to splash Questeria tomorrow. We are concerned that the hull might be cracked. We make arrangements for Bruce to inspect it and George to bring her back to the marina if it’s okay.

Thursday, September 21

We test the towing equipment we installed. It all works.

Our Dinghy
Our Dinghy

Bruce checks out Questeria. The hull is okay. They splash the boat and George takes her back home to our slip in Bonefish Marina. Everything goes fine.

We go to the grocery store and get ready for our trip home.

Friday, September 22

We attach the Honda to the RV and start heading south. Most of our friends who evacuated have now returned, Power is starting to be restored. We expect to make it back by Monday.

Many of our live-aboard friends have lost their boats. David and Brenda have their boat back and are able to live on it. Bill and Lisa’s boat is on the mangroves. Susan and Johns’s boat is in mangroves as well. Mark and Angie’s boat burned up from the generator.  John and Mel’s boat got totaled in the marina. Gary and Sally can’t even find their boat. The good news is that everyone we know is alive and well. We hear that everyone in the Keys is helping one another. The new slogan is “Keys Strong”.  It was not enough water to wash away the Florida Keys.


In November 2012 we bought a Garmin AIS 600, Automatic Identification System Transceiver. We chose this product for several reasons. We have a Garmin 4208 chartplotter and this is compatible. We wanted both send and receive capability and the ability to connect to our existing VHF radio antenna without a splitter. This product has all of that.

We installed it ourselves. We received some defective units at first and went through three before we got it working. Garmin’s technical support team was great. We were very happy with it once we got it up and running.

AIS works by sending and receiving digital information using the VHF radio band. Typically the AIS receiver and transmitter use the same antenna as your VHF radio. Some products need a splitter to share the antenna. The information transmitted includes latitude, longitude, MMSI number, vessel name, speed and course. The unit has a GPS to provide some of this information. The rest is programmed into the device.

The AIS 600 sends the information about your vessel over the VHF airwaves for other vessels to receive and sends information about other vessels to your chartplotter over NMEA 0183 or NMEA 2000. You can also see vessel information on PC-based applications via a USB cable.

We connected our AIS 600 to our chartplotter via NMEA 0183. We can also display other vessel information on our Windows PC or tablet running  OpenCPN or the Garmin setup program for Windows.

OpenCPN with AIS
OpenCPN with AIS

We were very happy with our Garmin AIS 600 until it didn’t work. Actually, it only stopped showing vessel information on the chartplotter. It still transmitted our vessel information and we could still display vessel information on our Windows tablet.


Whenever something stops working, and I’m not sure why, my first step is to procrastinate. Sometimes it will start working again, or at least I find out why it stopped. Once I determined that it wasn’t going to fix itself, I checked the connections between the AIS 600 and chartplotter. I re-soldered the NMEA 0183 connections and checked them with an ohmmeter. Everything checked-out good.

Garmin AIS Setup Utility
Garmin AIS Setup Utility

I Googled “garmin ais 600 problems” to see if I could find any suggestions. I found a Garmin support page. This was geared to first-time setup problems. I did it anyway. I updated our Garmin 4208 chartplotter to the latest firmware and checked the NMEA 0183 settings. The NMEA 0183 port used for AIS must be set to high-speed (38,400 baud vs. 4800 baud). It still didn’t work.

I emailed Garmin support. They replied, but I had already tried everything they suggested. I reread the installation manuals for the chartplotter and AIS. I rewired it to use other NMEA ports on the chartplotter, but it didn’t help.

I suspected that the NMEA 0183 stopped working, but I didn’t know if it was the AIS or chartplotter. I wired the output of the AIS NMEA 0183 to a serial to USB adapter. The adapter that I had did not work with the current version of Windows. I bought a new one on Amazon.com for $8.99.

Windows used to include HyperTerminal, a terminal emulator. Windows 10 doesn’t include that accessory anymore, but I had another program, PuTTY, that could be used in its place. I hooked it all up. I could not see anything on the AIS NMEA 0183 output, but I could see valid NMEA sentences on the AIS USB output. I was almost certain the problem was the NMEA 0183 output o the AIS 600.

PuTTY connected to AIS
PuTTY connected to AIS

A Garmin technical support rep called me to find out how it was going. He said it would cost $450 to repair the AIS 600. We discussed using NMEA 2000, which is supported by both the AIS 600 and 4208 chartplotter. That required a NMEA 2000 Starter Kit. The starter kit cost $87.95 on Amazon.com. This looked like my best alternative.


The AIS 600 came with some NMEA 2000 parts. The NMEA 2000 Starter Kit had everything else I needed to connect the AIS to the Chartplotter.

NMEA 2000 networks are powered by a 12 volt source. We wired ours to the same circuit as the Chartplotter and AIS. Our network consists of a backbone with three T-connectors and a backbone extension cable. The middle T-connector is the power cable, the others connect to the AIS and Chartplotter with drop cables. Each end of the backbone is terminated.

NMEA 2000 Sample Network
NMEA 2000 Sample Network

The above diagram is from Technical Reference for Garmin NMEA 2000 Products.

We connected the network to temporary a power source and verified that it was working in about 10 minutes. The permanent network wiring was pretty easy as well. We set it up so that we can easily attach other devices, such as a wind instrument. One more to do item to check off the list.

Weather, Part 8

It’s been a while since I did a weather post. I thought I had covered everything, but when I wrote Dry Tortugas – Day 6, I wanted to reference a post about GRIB files and realized that I never wrote that post. So here it is.

Cruisers have used GRIB files for a while. GRIB stands for Gridded Binary file, which describes the format, not the content. But most cruisers accept it as weather data, in particular, raw data from the Global Forecast System (GFS) model.

GRIB files are raw data from a computer model and have their advantages and disadvantages. Unlike Radio FAX weather maps they are not interpreted by a human, but a GRIB file has data for multiple locations over periods of time. GRIB files are more complex than weather FAX files and need a program to interpret them.

There are many ways to work with GRIB files. We use AirMail for it all.

Getting GRIB Files

We get GRIB files by sending an email to SailDocs. A minimum request message specifies the model and area of forecast. There are other optional parameters such as grid spacing and Valid Times (VT). The AirMail program has a GRIB-Request window to help format a request.

AirMail Grib-Request Window
AirMail Grib-Request Window

There is a trade-off between the amount of data needed and the file size. We tried out different parameters before we started our cruise to Dry Tortugas. Here is what we ended up with.

Subscribe GFS:26N,21N,084W,072W|1,1|0,12..120|PRMSL,WIND TIME=00:00

The above message is a single line. It has the following meaning:

  • Subscribe asks to get a new file daily. Use Send for a one-time request.
  • GFS is the model.
  • 26N,21N,084W,072W are latitudes and longitudes of the area the file will cover. We get a big area because we like to see weather from Dry Tortugas to Bahamas.
  • 1,1 defines the grid spacing in degrees (Lat,Lon).
  • 0,12..120 define the Valid Times (VT). In this case it is requesting the current forecast, followed by the 12 hour forecast, and 12 hours thereafter until 120 hours. We like these times because they correlate to the NWS 5-day zone forecast.
  • PRMSL requests Mean Sea-Level Pressure.
  • WIND requests gradient surface Wind.
  • TIME=00:00 specifies the UTC time that the file is sent. This time works best for us when we are cruising because we get our emails in the evening when the SSB propagation is good.

More information about requesting GRIB files is available at  www.saildocs.com/gribinfo.

Viewing GRIB Files

There are many options or viewing GRIB files. We use the viewer that comes with AirMail.

AirMail GRIB Viewer
AirMail GRIB Viewer

This viewer shows wind barbs and isobars for the area covered. It shows wind speed/direction and pressure wherever you place the mouse cursor and wind speed/direction at your current location, as set in AirMail. Select a Valid Time (VT) or scroll through them using up or down arrows to see the forecast for that time period. We usually set our location and scroll through Valid Times to see wind for our location for the next five days.

GRIB files play an important role in cruising. Especially when combined with other available weather resources. A GRIB file might even be the most important weather resource when in remote areas, without cell phone or internet access.

Dry Tortugas – Day 9

We wake up at 5:20 to rain. We quickly shut the windows and hatches. The rain stops by the time we get everything closed. It’s almost time to get up anyway.

We don’t have far to go today, but we want to get back to the marina before the wind and seas get too high.

Our refrigerator was running when we went to bed, but it started blinking lights during the night so we turned it off. We start the generator and run it on 110 volts AC. It runs fine that way.

Our holding tank is doing good. We partially dumped it five days ago on the way to Dry Tortugas. We could go a few more days, but we will get a pump-out when we get back to the marina.

We pull the anchor at 6:50 and exit the harbor. We turn east and head to our marina and we are heading directly into the wind, with seas about 1 foot.

We get back to the marina at 10:15.

This was a good trip. We came back with a long list of “To Dos” but most of them are easy fixes. Lots of things worked perfectly We had a great time exploring Marquesas and Dry Tortugas. It was especially fun with George and Nancy.

Dry Tortugas – Day 8

The wind dies during the night and the boat fills up with no-see-ums. Fran gets up and closes the hatches and windows, but it is too late.

We get up at 5:30, make coffee, and add oil to the engine. We start the generator for the refrigerator. The food inside is still cold.

Originally we talked about anchoring in Newfound Harbor, but since we went further yesterday, we decide to anchor in Bahia Honda tonight. We’ve always wanted to anchor there and we might even dinghy in to the concession store and get ice cream.

Questeria Leaving Boca Grande
Questeria Leaving Boca Grande

We put out our trolling rods and catch a barracuda. We can’t get the hook out so we end up cutting the line and losing our lure. No more fishing today. George and Nancy decide to go out to the reef and fish for yellow tail. We want to get to the anchorage and let the boat cool off and check on the refrigerator.

We get to the Bahia Honda anchorage at 3:00pm. We are the only boat in the anchorage. When we go to drop the anchor, the windlass remote does not work. We have to use the control switches in the cockpit. It is easier with our EarTec headsets. We anchor in 9 feet of water. We have heard that there is a strong current here so we put out 7:1 scope. Adding 6, the height of our anchor shoot, to 9, the depth, and multiplying by 7 comes out to 105 feet.

This is the first time we have anchored here, but we are familiar with the Bahia Honda state park because we stayed here in our RV in January. See RV Adventures, Sault Ste. Marie to Marathon, Bahia Honda.

The refrigerator has run on the generator all day. We turn off the generator and the refrigerator runs on 12 volts.

This a noisy anchorage. There is road noise from the Bahia Honda Bridge and there is a lot of boat traffic from the state park and boats going between Hawk Channel and the bay-side. Worst of all is the people on the beach blasting their music.

Steel Lady comes in at 5:00 and anchors 100 yards west of us. Another sailboat comes in behind them. A woman in a thong is out on deck with a boat hook. First they try to moor to a crab pot buoy, then they go to the mooring ball that is for official use only. When they see that they can’t use a mooring ball they decide to anchor right on top of our anchor. We call them on the VHF radio and tell them they are over our anchor. He comes back and asks how much rode we have out. We tell them over 100 feet and they move. We thank them.

We watch the sunset and blow the conch shell. The park closes at sunset (except for the campgrounds) and the loud music from the beach stops. At 9:00 we run the A/C to cool the boat. The refrigerator is still running on 12 volts. The road noise and boat traffic subsides.

Dry Tortugas – Day 7

It starts to rain at 1:30am We wake up to rain pouring in our hatch. The bed is soaked by the time we get the wind scoop off and the hatch closed. The wind is howling – maybe 25 to 30 knots. We dry  ourselves, the bed and the floor. I go back to bed. Fran says “In a wet bed?” I reply “It’s only wet in the middle.”

A few minutes later Fran is calling me. Our shade is trying to blow off. She is holding a corner and wants a piece of rope so she can retie it, but sees the grommet is torn out. We decide we need to take it down. It is tied in some places and we have to cut the ropes with a knife, but we get it down and out of the wind.

While we are doing this boats around us that are dragging anchor and commercial vessels are coming into this anchorage for better protection. When we came here we put out 75 feet of chain, 5:1 scope. In these condition we need at least 7:1, but we are afraid to mess with it now since The wind is gusting and our anchor is holding. We set Drag Queen just in case.

We try to go back to sleep. Me in part of the bed that is dry and Fran in the aft cabin.

We get up at 5:30am and make coffee. We pull the anchor at 6:50am and we are underway to Marquesas. We are wallowing with the wind behind us and following seas.

George calls us on the radio and says they caught a tuna. We put out the trolling rods. At 8:30 we catch a 24″ cero mackerel. At 9:15 we catch a 21″ tuna.

Cero Mackerel
Cero Mackerel

George calls us on the VHF radio and suggests we go north of Half Moon Shoal since it might be calmer. It doesn’t seem to make much difference.

We approach the west side of Marquesas and we think it might be rough anchoring there. We decide to try anchoring on the northeast side of Marquesas. If that looks too rough we will anchor in Boca Grande Key.

It starts raining at 2:20. We have to close up the boat. With everything closed and our exhaust (annoying) fan not working it is really hot below and our refrigerator is not happy. The yellow light is blinking. According to the manual that means low voltage, but that doesn’t make sense because the batteries are fully charged from running the engine all day. We think it may be too hot so we try to cool it off with fans.

We get near the spot northeast of Marquesas and decide to continue to Boca Grande Key. The seas are really rough until we get into the Boca Grande Channel, then it calms way down. We raft up to Steel Lady.

The refrigerator is still not working. We think the problem is that it is next to the engine and is too hot. We open the engine room doors to cool off the engine room and now the entire boat is hot. We start the generator and run the A/C. The A/C pulls a lot of current and occasionally the generator goes into overload. When that happens we have to restart it, but eventually the boat cools down a little. The refrigerator is still not working.

In the meantime we clean fish. We filet three tunas, the one Fran caught and two from George and Nancy. We cut the cero mackerel into 1″ steaks. After that we clean up the blood and guts and freeze all the fish, except for enough cero mackerel for dinner.

We try running the refrigerator on 110 AC with the generator and surprisingly it works.

We grill some cero mackerel. It  is awesome.

We are on the edge of having cell phone service. It is Mothers Day and Fran gets texts from her children. She even talks on the phone, but the calls keep dropping.

We leave the generator running while we go to bed so the refrigerator will run until the generator runs out of gas. When we get in bed, the bit of breeze we have is blowing fumes into the boat, so we turn the generator off. The refrigerator has a cold plate and it should keep cool for a while.

We had a good day despite the weather and problems with the refrigerator. We caught fish and we are here in this awesome anchorage. You can down-load our track, track20170514.kmz and open it in Google Earth if you want to explore Boca Grande Key.