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Wednesday, January 25, 2006 - Indian Key
It was difficult, even traumatic, but it had to be done. Around 1:30 PM we said goodbye to Gloria, untied the boat from Living Well and with the usual gnashing of teeth (it only took us two tries) we motored off with no injuries. Motoring out the channel to the Gulf, we passed a Hunter 356, Galapago, that I had seen at the dock at Clearwater some weeks before. We went offshore just long enough to pump out our holding tank and then returned to the Indian Key channel, anchoring a half mile from Galapago in Russell Pass. Everyone agreed it was time for an exploration, so we plowed through the bay for a mile back up to the beach at Indian Key. This turned out to be one of our favorite beaches yet. Fifty or more white pelicans were gathered together on a sand spit nearby. The shells were numerous, the mangroves scattered along north shore of the island. The Park Service used to maintain a primitive campsite on Indian Key, but although lots of sea kayaks and other tours visit the island, the camp is no longer there. The island is still looking a little battered from Hurricane Wilma, but in some ways that only added to the wilderness feel.

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.

Photo: (1) Indian Key. (2) Indian Key again. (3) Brown Pelicans are everywhere in Florida, but here in the Everglades they also come in white.

Thursday, January 26, 2006 - Little Shark River
I was up early for the 40 mile trip in the Gulf to Little Shark River and so were Ken and Mary Lou, so we traded waypoints and proceeded onward in a loose confederation. Once the batteries were charged the wind provided all the power we needed, so we sailed most of the distance at between six and seven knots. Remembering a shot that Clarence had taken on Lake Chickamauga, I decided to climb the mast and get some photos of the boat romping through the Gulf. This was not as much fun as I had anticipated (unlike Clarence, who had mast steps, I was climbing a separate rope and swinging wildly) so I stopped at the first spreaders.

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.

Photo: (1) Annie likes to dangle her feet from the rail. (2) Annie doubts I can climb the mast. She's right. (3) Hunting crocs in an inflatable boat probably is not wise. (4) Peaceful waters in the Everglades.

Friday, January 27 - Boot Key Harbor, Marathon
This was a NASCAR day--lots of speed, with occasional wrecks. We were underway from Little Shark just after sunrise (good) but this happened to coincide with low tide (bad, because it took us 45 minutes to find a path out into the Gulf where our keel would fit). Once in deeper water, chasing sails on the horizon from the boats that left Shark River before us (plus a couple behind us that had left after), the boat came alive in 15-20 knots of breeze and routinely hit eight knots under sail. The two boats behind us were disappearing into the horizon. I was sorely tempted to call our sailing friends back home and tell them what a great time were having.

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
As usual, we came into harbor thinking we would stay one day only to find ourselves settling into a comfortable routine. Some cruisers stay for years. Although the wind has yet to drop below a mild howl since we arrived, there is a West Marine just to the west with its own dingy dock, and a Boater's World, Home Depot, two grocery stores, and a K-mart about a twenty minute walk to the east (if somebody would allow a dingy dock on the canals in that direction, it would be an even easier commute). The library and post office are close by. There's a nice playground a block over from the City Marina, which is cruiser headquarters. The city has put in some 40 or 50 moorings ($15/day, $60/week, $165 month if one is available, which is apparently very rarely) but another 100 boats are anchored at no charge. There's a small fee for just about everything from pumpouts to taking a shower or getting water, but everything is available with the exception of wireless Internet in the harbor. Each morning at 9:00 there is a cruising net on VHF 68 which has helped us get to know the area and the other sailors all around us.

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.

Photo: At any given moment there are usually fifty or more boats at the City Marina dingy dock.

Monday, January 30 - Boot Key Harbor, Marathon
Another busy day. I rigged up a longer antenna for the SSB radio and it seemed to work a little better than the 30 foot cable I had been using. Around 10:30, we dingied over to Grumpy II and had a great visit with Ron, Lureene, Emily, and Cookie. Laura and Emily did crafts and played. We left in the afternoon with a plan to get over to West Marine but when we got back to the boat it was uncomfortably close to Emily V in the veering winds and needed to be moved. We pulled up two out of three anchors, leaving the Nemo on the third, and went out under the bridge to Burdines Marina to get fuel and water. When we returned we were hunting around for a better spot and were radioed by Sea Trek that they had taken a marina slip for a couple of days, so we took up residence in the hole they had left.

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.

Photos: (1) Laura and her new friend Emily from Grumpy II. (2) The cast and crew of Grumpy 2. (3) Sunset at Boot Key Harbor.

Tuesday, January 31 - Boot Key Harbor, Marathon
Today, after listening to the weather and successfully checking into a Marine SSB Net (Cruizeheimers) for the first time, we got a knock on the hull from our friends Ron and Bobi from Anticipation, last seen in Tarpon Springs. They are rafted up with Northstar and like us planning to cross to the Bahamas at the first good weather window. Unlike us, they have been across before and know what they are doing.

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.

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