Our Best Photos of 2016

Happy new year and welcome to 2017. I hope all of our readers made it, unlike all those celebrities that didn’t.

I haven’t had time to write anything new for the new year, so I thought I’d kick things off with a photographic retrospective of 2016. Deciding on our “best” photos is very subjective, and I didn’t actually ask Mary’s opinion on these. I just scrolled through all the folders of photos from the past year and picked my favorites. So, in no particular order, here are my favorite photos that we took during our adventures in 2016.

Sunset Cruising aboard SV Hippokampos

Mary spent last Saturday evening in a classroom taking the ASA 201 written test, so our friends Andy and Jayne were kind enough to invite me along on a sunset cruise.

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All the usual suspects were aboard.

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And I got to a chance to bring along my friends Chris and RJ, who have never done much sailing.

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We were making our way down the channel when we noticed several dolphins cruising along with a sailboat not too far from us.

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And soon they were on their way over to say hello to Hippokampos as well.

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As we made our way towards the ship channel they dropped back. This time of year they seem to spend more time in the upper bay.

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Soon the sun was dropping towards the horizon. It never ceases to amaze me how fast it moves once it starts setting.

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And just as the sun disappeared somewhere over there behind the Kemah Boardwalk, the wind picked up, so we turned the boat around and made another lap around the bay in the dark.

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SVI Journal: Day 7, Punta Tamarindo Grande and Flamenco Beach, Culebra

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Just after sunrise, the airport opened in Dewey, Culebra. Loud little Cessnas and other small planes were taking off right over the Ensenada Honda anchorage all morning long.

I had filled the 4GB SD card in my old camera the night before, so Mary went into town to explore the grocery store situation and look for SD cards while I helped gather fresh water jugs from the other two boats to re-fill our tank.

Chateau du Mer donated their two 5.5 gallon jugs as they still had plenty of water. We took those back to Caicu and emptied them out before making another run to the Dinghy Dock Restaurant with both their jugs and our jugs. The bartender turned on the water hose for us, and we paid 25 cents per gallon to fill up — we didn’t even have to lift the tanks out of the dinghy.

Even though the bar wasn’t officially open yet, the bartender from El Paso overheard that we were from Texas, so she still sold us a round of Coronas. She started telling us about the deer that swam from island to island. We had seen something that looked like deer droppings on Culebrita, but we took the story of swimming deer with a grain of salt.

Mary and Jayne appeared across the way on the municipal dinghy dock with grocery bags, so we downed our beers and went to pick them up. While we had hoped to grill steaks that night, the best non-fish proteins Mary found were some mediocre looking pork chops. However, they only went to the small market close to the bay, they didn’t venture all the way up the hill to the Ralph’s. More importantly, the dive shop, which Mary described as “more of a dive tent” had SD cards.

Once we got the water in the tanks, we pulled up anchor — along with a huge amount of sea grass and mud. I did my best to pull it off the chain as it was coming up, but I couldn’t get it all, and the windlass was basically flinging crap all over the foredeck.

We really enjoyed the atmosphere in Dewey, and we were a little disappointed that we couldn’t stay longer to explore more of the the town. That’s someplace I could see us hanging out for a while and playing music in the bars at night.

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We headed west around Culebra towards Punta Tamarindo Grande, and yes, we did notice that Batubara went in the wrong channel and took the scenic route towards Culebrita before finally turning wide and sailing back.

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We snagged a mooring ball in the nature preserve and just when we thought Culebra couldn’t possibly get any better, we took a snorkel and got absolutely blown away by the reef. It was the biggest one I’d ever seen.

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I spent the entire afternoon snorkeling and came across another green sea turtle.

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Later in the afternoon we dinked over to the beach and took the trail across the island to Flamenco Beach.

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On the way, what should we run into, but a deer. It wasn’t swimming, but we decided maybe there was more to the swimming deer story than we had thought. We also encountered several chickens as well as a quite smelly dead cat.

When we finally crossed through the chained but loose gate, which led into the parking lot of Flamenco Beach, we saw this sign. Glad I didn’t go wandering off the path to catch a photograph of those chickens.

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Flamenco Beach was picturesque with blue water and white sand ringed by hills.

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At the very north end of the beach some of the crew discovered abandoned army tanks covered in graffiti. I was really sorry I missed getting a photo of them.

We stopped by the drink huts for a pina colada before making the hike back across the reserve to our mooring field.

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The sun was dropping fast, but I took one more snorkel before dinner. Mary made stir fry with peanut sauce — another big hit with our crew.

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The crew of Chateau du Mer brought a special whiskey, so after dinner we all met on Batubara for a “wee dram.” I regret it now, but I passed on the whiskey that night because my stomach was feeling a bit rough, and I was already nodding off, even with Batubara’s bilge alarm going off every ten minutes. I went to foredeck to check out the stars and nap a bit while Mary enjoyed a game of charades with the rest of the crew.

When we finally dinked back to Caicu, I was out before my head even hit the pillow.

Cave Exploration, and a Taste of Real Hiking

There is a “cave” hidden down in the woods behind my Grandmother’s property.  To my knowledge it has been well over 5 years since anyone in our family has been able to find it.  Me and my cousins tried a couple years back, but with only vague memories of the path, and with everything overgrown we ended up wandering in the woods until sunset.

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This year I was determined to find it.  I started with a map of the general area from google earth, and then took this map around to some family members to see if there was anything they recognized. Everyone has their own path they prefer to take down to it complete with all the best landmarks: “big rock in creek,” “three small creeks and then a big one,” “the big hill,” etc.  I took some notes of where these landmarks kinda were on the map, which by the way on google it’s all just treetops anyway.  From this information we blocked out a square on the map where we thought the cave might be and devised our route.

For any family members reading this…From Grandma’s field…Down the big hill (there’s no tractor path anymore), stay north of the creek, you cross over two small creeks, and then through a big patch of stinging nettles.  I’m smiling in this picture, but they are horrible, best to have a machete or large stick.

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When you get to the nettles you may want to give up and go down to the big creek. Don’t, you will be going in the wrong direction.

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Instead you need to find the medium-sized creek somewhere in the sea of horrible stinging nettles.

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Then you will follow this creek roughly north west up the hill.  Along the path there will be many, many fallen trees and spiders in the way.  It will comfort you to know your only other option is nettles, so just suck it up.

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You’ll know its time to cut up the hill when you see these three large rocks up on the hill.  From your direction they will be on the left.

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Once you get to the top of the hill…It will all be worth it.  :).

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All of our family names are still there 🙂

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If you’re worried about the hike back…don’t..  When you get to the cave, you will discover you can see rows of corn from the top, and that there was a clear path there from the neighbor’s pasture all along!

Don’t worry you can still take it back.

P.S. iPhone compasses are not reliable.

Up in the trees

While walking the dogs this weekend we heard quite the racket coming from the trees around the marina. There was an incessant chorus of what I guess I’d describe as a croak-squawk mixed with regular squawks and a bunch of wing-flapping and branch rustling. We had to go investigate.BlackCrownedNightHeron01

Black crowned night herons were everywhere in the trees, and as we stared harder, we discovered the source of the croak-squawking.

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Nests with very large baby black crowned night herons were everywhere. Most nests had two chicks, and some trees had up to four nests. They were all demanding to be fed while their parents hopped from branch to branch nearby, nervously wondering what we were doing under the trees.

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It was hard to capture a good photo due to all the leaves and branches, but the chicks seemed comically large for the size of the nests.

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When we walked back by on Sunday, we actually saw the adults starting to coax the chicks out of the nest for their first flying lessons. Of course, not all of them looked happy about being evicted.

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I’m sure that in another week or two we’ll see these little guys balancing on dock lines and grabbing fish out of the water, just like their parents.

Saturday Morning Sunrise

For the first time in forever, we finally had a weekend of nothing but sun. Not that I mind the rain, but it was nice to be able to open all the hatches and just enjoy the spring air. I couldn’t resist getting up early Saturday morning to sip some coffee and watch the sunrise.

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Momma duck brought all the babies by to say, hello as they started their morning routine.

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And even this sleepy head got out of bed earlier than usual for a walk around the marina.

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Our new feathered friend

Last weekend we had a new bird take up residence near Gimme Shelter. Every morning this snowy egret was walking the shallows just the other side of the breakwater.

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While he kept an eye on us and refused to eat while we were watching, he never flew away. I left him to catch his breakfast while I went to eat mine. I was excited to see him again the next morning when we got up to walk the dogs.

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Rarely are birds and animals close enough to shoot with the rangefinder, but he (or she, I have no idea how to tell the gender) was close enough that I managed to capture these shots with the M9 using the 135mm f2.8 Leica Elmarit lens.

All of the rocks in that area disappear under water when the summer tides and south wind return, but hopefully our new egret friend will stick around and have breakfast with us for a few more weekends.

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Edward Ball Wakulla Springs State Park

Have you ever heard of Edward Ball Wakulla Springs State Park? Maybe not, but you’ve probably seen it in one of the many movies filmed there, including the original 1954 Creature from the Black Lagoon.

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However, we were looking for another creature when we visited the park, which is a haven for manatees.

As one of the largest freshwater springs in the United States, the park is open 8 a.m. to sunset every day with nine miles of hiking trails along with swimming and river boat nature tours.

We arrived in the rain, so we stopped and had lunch in the historic lodge, which has a few guest rooms and both a full-service restaurant and a soda fountain along with a gift shop.

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Due to the rain we didn’t have time to check out any of the hiking trails, but the weather did clear enough for us to take a guided boat tour.

Spoiler alert, we did not see a single manatee. However, there was no shortage of other wildlife.

There were flocks of coots puttering around.

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There were also quite a few white ibis.

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There were also plenty of cormorants diving for fish.

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The spring is also a haven for Anhingas.

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But we saw more than birds. The water is clear enough to see the fish swimming by, and of course, there were these guys.

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No swamp is complete without a few gators.

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This was my first time to shoot wildlife with the Leica Vario-Elmar-R f4.5 75-200mm zoom adapted to the Sony NEX-6. This was a lens designed by Minolta and rebranded for Leica in the late 1970s and early 1980s. The Leica version still sells for around $300, but you can pick up the Minolta f4.5 75-200mm, which is the exact same lens with a different mount, for $25 or less!

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I found it to be a little lacking in fine detail with kind of scary, ziggety bokeh. (Yes, ziggety just became a word.) Would I recommend it? Well, I definitely would not recommend paying for the Leica version, but if you need a zoom to adapt to your mirrorless camera, you can’t beat $25 for the Minolta version.

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Although the river through Wakulla Springs State Park runs all the way to the coast, Edward Ball, being the millionaire industrialist that he was, managed to have access blocked, so don’t plan to anchor out and then take your dinghy up the river, which wouldn’t be good for the manatees anyway.

If we ever make it back to Tallahassee in the summer, we’ll definitely make another trip for a chance to hike the trails and swim in the “black lagoon.”

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