Wednesday, January 25, 2006 - Indian Key
Before returning to the boat we stopped by Galapago to introduce ourselves and spent a wonderful hour with Ken and Mary Lou from Green River, Kentucky. Back on the boat, the stars were as bright in the clear sky as any night we've ever seen.
Thursday, January 26, 2006 - Little Shark River
Around 3:00 PM we entered Little Shark River and anchored just inside. Galapago continued upriver about a mile to a more protected spot where there were already two other sailboats. Nemo away! It was time to explore. We went upriver a couple of miles and then made a big loop back to the second anchorage. It would be easy to get lost here since all the channels tend to look alike--and forget about calling for help on the cell phones here. Just to be sure, we had the handheld GPS, both of our handheld VHF radios, and the satellite phone just in case (not to mention flares, bug spray, and other survival essentials that need to be in the dingy all the time). When we got back to the boat we found three more sailboats had arrived, with a couple coming in right at sunset. I had debated for months about getting a kayak to take along on our cruise, but honestly had not missed it until now. There were creeks and little waterways all along the river that just begged to be quietly explored and pondered.
Annie says: I had a wonderful dolphin experience tonight. I was sitting in the cockpit after Laura and Rodger had retired, looking at the millions of stars visible when I heard a splash. Then another and another. Then air blowing. The boat was surrounded by dolphins. I never got to see them as it was quite dark, but I spent an enjoyable half hour relaxing in their presence.
Friday, January 27 - Boot Key Harbor, Marathon
An hour later, as we dropped below the capes that mark the southern end of Florida, the waves had grown to a constant three or four feet and the wind was constantly over 20 knots. Despite our fortifications below, things started to slide and fall in the cabin. We reefed the mainsail, then the genoa. By the time we hit my waypoint at Bullard Banks, we were down to a scrap of a genoa. Fortunately, the route I had chosen was easy to follow, dodging a couple of shallow spots to reach the Seven Mile Bridge just east of Marathon. I started the engine and we crossed under the bridge into the Atlantic Ocean, congratulating ourselves on what fine sailors we were. When an annoying beeping filled the cockpit I started stabbing at the chartplotter to acknowledge whatever it wanted to tell me, but this time it was the engine alarm. Ye gads! Just a few days previously I had finally installed an engine temperature gauge, and when I looked at it (as Diesel Don had said, gauges do you no good if you don't watch them) it was already pegged. I shut down the engine and weighed our options. The waves on this side of the bridge were worse than before and the wind was howling. We still had the reefed mainsail up, so I decided to try tacking up into the lee of Boot Key. This was a difficult task because the further out we went, the bigger the waves became, and our speed over the ground dropped to just a couple of knots. Thinking perhaps the strainer was clogged, I took a quick look at the engine and it didn't take long to figure out that the belt had broken. Annie sailed the boat with waves of spray coming over the dodger while I replaced the belt.
We powered back up and motorsailed into the lee of the island where several boats were anchored before dropping the mainsail. This was easier said than done but was finally accomplished. We motored under the bascule bridge into Boot Key Harbor, feeling we'd run a marathon. The City Marina confirmed that there were no mooring balls available, so we had to anchor somewhere. To quote the 2006 Waterway Guide, "Finding a place to anchor in Boot Key Harbor can be quite a challenge, but hundreds of cruisers take their chances...empty spots are usually empty for a reason, such as shallow water." We picked out a spot next to a small red sailboat with no mast named Freedom flying a large American flag with an equally large Christmas tree in the cockpit. We tried twice to get the Delta to set. The Bruce, as usual, set immediately. I put the Danforth out on the back since Freedom was on four anchors and thus wouldn't swing. Eleven hours after departing Shark River, we were officially at anchor, exhausted.
Yearning to cruise? Tonight we are yearning to just stay in one place for a while again. We will likely stay here a day or two before continuing east up the Keys toward Miami, then heading for the Bahamas...eventually.
Annie says: I hurt all over.
Sunday, January 29 - Boot Key Harbor, Marathon
Yesterday we spent some time with Chuck and Susan from Sea Trek, who have cruised these waters for many years and are just back from six months in Guatemala and the western Caribbean. Tom Pride had alerted them we were coming and could use their advice. Chuck put our Bahamas routing questions in perspective when he told us to get south to George Town as fast as we could during these windy winter months, then take our time exploring the islands on the way back when things are generally calmer. George Town is far enough south that the cold fronts that sweep down from North America are weaker or may even dwindle out before they get there.
Yesterday I got excited about traveling again when Doug from Misty Blue, who we first met in Mobile and last saw in Pensacola, asked if we would be interested in joining him in a crossing to Bimini. Annie pointed out that we weren't provisioned or ready to go just yet, and as usual she was right. Today I changed the oil in the engine (263 hours) and both the fuel filters (last changed the day we left Sale Creek). Then we made a huge shopping expedition to Home Depot, Boater's World, and Publix, where we got so many groceries that a cab ride (just $4.00) was needed to get back to the marina. Laura has made a friend named Emily from Grumpy II, a boat hailing from the Catskills of New York. We're hoping to arrange a playdate for them to spend more time together. Even after our week in Everglades City, there are still things to be done on the boat. I'm going to get some more copper foil and rearrange the grounding system for the SSB radio, and I've debated doing some rewiring at the Nav station. It seems that there are always boats waiting for a window to jump over to Bimini or Cat Cay (although most go east a day along the Keys first) so it's likely we can stay as long as we need to and still have some company for the crossing.
Monday, January 30 - Boot Key Harbor, Marathon
After the morning radio net we talked to Doug on Misty Blue. He had left yesterday but came back because it was a bit too rough. Janet from Promise came over and it looks like all of us hope to make our crossing later this week during what looks like a nice three-day window of South to Southeast winds.
Tuesday, January 31 - Boot Key Harbor, Marathon
We picked up some copper grounding foil and electrical connectors at West Marine (never can have too many of those), then took a cab to the only laundry mat in town, the "Maytag Laundry." There are machines at the marina but they were all full and we heard the dryers weren't great. Annie did some shopping for food while Laura and I started the Laundry. After another cab ride (just $4.00 plus tip) we came back to the boat so I could mess around with the electrical system. I'm never quite sure we don't have a ground leak that could be causing corrosion, and I'm still not sure. Later I tried unsuccessfully to get JVComm32, a shareware weatherfax program, to show me a fax I could read instead of gibberish, but failed.
The general plan is to move somewhere up the Keys (probably Rodriguez, although I'm not sure how that anchorage will be in the predicted winds) so we'll be ready if we want to take this short window for a trip across the Gulf Stream to Cat Key, then onward across the Great Bahamas Banks towards Nassau. I had wanted to clear in at Bimini but today heard a story of someone getting pounded in the shallow, shoaling entrance channel. The good news is that we will be traveling with other boats in case we do have any problems. We'll check the weather again early in the morning and make a decision of some sort.
Annie says: I am amazed at how cruising forms such quick bonds between people. As we were leaving Boot Key Harbor all our friends were checking in with us on the radio and wishing us a safe journey. Even though we had only been here a few days, we had already made many new friends and re-connected with old ones. We will meet up with some of them later, but some are heading in different directions.