THE GALIANDER JOURNEY
The Florida Keys
© 1997-1998 by John and Eleanor Coulthard
Permission to copy for non-commercial purposes is granted provided the source is acknowledged
December 31, 1997 - ICW: No Name Harbour to
January 6, 1998 - ICW: Tarpon Basin to Marathon
January 11, 1998 - Florida Keys: Marathon and Key West
January 15, 1998 - Florida Keys - Waiting for aWeather Window
January 18, 1998 - Leaving for the Bahamas?
January 19, 1998 - Safe arrival *sigh* in Marathon
January 22, 1998 - Enjoying Marathon
January 26, 1998 - Still waiting for a weather window
January 28, 1998 -... every wind blows itself out ...
Here it is, New Years Eve. We are anchored in a place called Tarpon Basin, about 60 miles south of Miami down in the Florida Keys. We just completed a wonderful sail from Boca Chita Key. The weather was sunny and cool, well for Florida anyhow. The high was about 70f. The waters are very clear. The bottom, while only six to seven feet away, looks much closer. Sailing in such shallow waters is a little unsettling at first. But we got used to it and now pretty much don't pay attention to the depth sounder until we are entering an anchorage or navigating down a dredged channel. At midnight we hope to see fireworks set off from a barge in a neighboring bay. There are just the two of us. Brian, Kathy, Courtney and Greg on Tundra are about 25 miles further down the keys from us.
At the end of our last message (last Sunday) I indicated that we had just weathered the passing of a cold front accompanied by high winds. We had reset our second anchor in anticipation of a wind shift. Then Kathy, Eleanor and Courtney went shopping. After they left a second thunderstorm from the same storm system hit us. This time we got belted by 35 knot sustained winds accompanied by torrential rain - but again, we were fine, as were the other 6 boats in this anchorage. I am glad we moved our second anchor though. It was perfectly set.
Torrential rain really is heavy. I would hunker down in cockpit behind the dodger and watch it sometimes. To venture out is to get wet. The wind drives the rain up into all the little cracks of whatever you are wearing. I doubt anything but a one piece foul weather outfit would keep you dry.
Eleanor, Kathy and Courtney were out shopping when it hit and I was worried about them. But they contacted us on the HAM radio 2-meter frequency. They made it to the shops before the second storm hit. They waited out the storm in a bike shop where Kathy bought new tires for her boat bike. They finished their shopping, then caught a Taxi back.
Sunday dawned calmer but another cold front accompanied by high winds is expected on Monday. Greg showed up to join Tundra about noon on Sunday. Brian and Kathy were very anxious to start moving down the keys so they could spend New Years with friends. Tundra, which requires 6 feet of water, cannot proceed any further down the ICW on the west side of the keys. So they headed to an anchorage "outside" in a place called Caeser Creek. Eleanor and I elected to go a short distance down the ICW on the "inside" to a little place called Boca Chita Key. It is a park where we tied up right against the wall of an extremely protected harbour. At the end of the day we were only about 9 miles away from Tundra.
On Monday, as predicted, the second front moved through. No torrential rain but 25 knot winds built which we would have had to power directly into if we had decided to move. We decided to stay put. Tundra elected take a very early start and head down to Rodriquez Island where the anchoring was better and they were closer to their destination. Tuesday the high winds continued and we decided to stay put for another day.
Boca Chita is a delightful little Island. We got to know the people on the other two sailboats in the harbour. They are locals and provided us with a wealth of local knowledge about the Florida Keys. Tuesday night we all got together and watched the sun go down, looking for the green flash. We read, walked around the island, visited and waded in the little beaches. In short, it was lovely.
Boca Chita used to be owned by the Honeywell family. Then it became a park. Hurricane Andrew pretty well scoured the Island clean in 1992. It was only reopened last year. A lovely ornamental lighthouse that was built by the Honeywell Family in the early 1900's survived Andrew. We were lucky to be able to take a tour of it while some park rangers were on the island.
This morning (Wednesday) the weather forecasters promised us a one day respite from the high winds and we elected to head farther down the keys. And were treated to this wonderful day. Eleanor and I are both tired, but are feeling good. What better way to spend New Year's Eve?
I (Eleanor speaking) caught my first fish today; a mean little fellow with a flat head and many, many teeth. I left him down for bait. Another fish came along and ate him up but he looked like an ugly catfish and not very appetizing. So I let him go.
John forgot to mention how much we are enjoying Florida's fresh citrus fruit. Friends gave us some tree ripened grapefruit. Along with them we have limes, oranges, bananas, coconut and pecans in the morning. What a breakfast feast! Tonight we sliced open a green coconut and drank the juice with rum to celebrate New Year's Eve. We also have a ripe coconut aboard which we will crack open when we get hungry for coconut.
While walking the River Walk in Fort Lauderdale Kathy, Courtney, and I were given a great demonstration on how to harvest the coconuts We learned from a friendly park gardener not only how to get milk from the green ones but also how to crack the big woody ones.( He put it under his truck tire and backed over it.)
Eleanor and I were asleep by 10pm on New Year's Eve. We woke up in the middle of the night to a terrible sound and lept out of bed thinking another boat must have dragged anchor and bumped into us. But it was only the midnight fireworks from the next bay so we stayed up and celebrated New Years with the rest of the boats.
January 1st the high winds returned so we decided to stay put in Tarpon Basin, where we were well anchored and protected, but a long way from shore. In the afternoon we launched the dingy and after a fairly wet ride to shore had a nice walk to the nearby Penekamp State Park and then had a nice supper looking over the basin with Galiander in the distance. We tried conch for the first time a bit chewy but tasty.
The area we are in has a lot of Mangrove forests (if that is the right word). Many of the narrow channels we go through have been carved through Mangroves and it is quite fascinating. Kayakers scoot in and out of little hidden channels. Bird life is starting to abound again (Pelicans in particular seemed to thin out near Miami). We saw a Pink Flamingo. The water continues to be shallow. We entered a 7 foot patch and I said, "Wow - it is really deep here!"
Friday we decided to move, despite the continued high winds. They were at least in a favorable direction, north east. It was a long warm day, through many shallow sand bars over chalky green waters. By 2pm we had dropped anchor behind Tundra at Lower Matecumbe Key. The continuing high winds from the North east are blocking our progress. Tundra must go outside (North east) of the keys on this leg due to her depth and it is mighty rough out there. It is frustrating. These winds extend out to the Bahamas as well. The boaters out there who check into our morning HAM net are also waiting for the winds to subside. Many don't even want to go ashore as the dingy ride is so wet.
These are good days for doing a few chores. I got the icebox lid fixed. Also got the printer out and printed us some color business cards. All the cruisers like to trade business cards when they meet. Well, more properly "cruising cards", but they are printed on business card stock paper. We just printed ours on ordinary paper and cut them out with scissors - flimsy cruising cards I suppose but they do the job.
We anchored outside the little resort where Brian and Kathy's friends were staying over Christmas and New Years. They don't have many guests right now and have been very kind to us - letting us dinghy ashore, fill our water tanks, borrow bicycles and even have showers. The manager and his wife used to be cruisers themselves.
We rode their bikes down to "Lobster Walk", a wonderful fresh fish market just like an aquarium with live tubs of lobsters, groupers, etc. The ice shed was filled with huge fish of all kinds. Saturday night we had lobster. Sunday another boat, "Good Company", came in and anchored behind us. Marvin and Nancy sailed their boat around from Galveston, Texas and had just come from Marathon, our next destination. So naturally we wanted to chat to them about their trip. We had them over with Tundra to feast on Stone Crab Legs. The crabbers catch these crabs and tear off their large pincer then return them to the water, and they grow another one. The claws are very large and really hard. I cracked them using a hammer. They were very sweet.
On Monday, January 5th we decided to make our move to Marathon. The winds had died down a little bit and the swell in the Hawk Channel (to the east of the Florida Keys) was reported to be only three feet. Unfortunately when we got out there - finally on the outside! - the swell was lumpy and uncertain and it was a queasy ride down to Marathon, dodging lobster traps all the way.
The harbour at Marathon is called Boot Key harbour. It is large and has hundreds of boats anchored in it. We found a clear spot and put out two anchors to limit our swing. Then had a shower. The weather is hot and muggy. The skies are generally overcast with a threat of showers. The highs are in the low 80's. At night the temperature will fall to the low 70's. We appreciate the breeze now - it keeps things cool.
A fellow called "The Iceman" just dropped by. He welcomed us to the harbour and gave us a couple of free magazines. He sells water from his boat for 10 cents a gallon and delivers pizzas and Sunday newspapers.
Tomorrow we will explore Marathon. I need to find a place to have our Autohelm, which we sent away for repairs, returned to us. Also it appears our VHF radio has just stopped working - I haven't had a chance to look at it yet but we may have to purchase another one. We need to reprovision and do laundry.
Also I (the proof reader) intend to investigate car rentals and get down to Key West . I understand it is a great place to visit; lots of touristy shops etc.
Marathon - the final destination of many boats heading into the Florida Keys for the winter. It provides a much safer and larger anchorage then Key West. The anchorage here seems very crowded to us. There are probably about 200 boats here. But we have been told that it will be much more crowded later in February. We have purchased "Dinghy dock" services at a place called Pat and Kelly's Marina - about a 10 minute dinghy ride from here. For the small sum of $12.70 per week we can tie up our dinghy there, watch television, use them as a mail drop, dispose of garbage, pay $1.50 for a shower. $2.00 for a laundry, load and purchase water for .05 per gallon. They also have two bicycles they lend out for nothing.
Pat and Kelly's is quite a "character" establishment. It is very laid back. As well as the above there is a library from which you can take books or donate books. They own two parrots, two dashunds, a rotweiller/german-shepard cross and a female raccoon. The raccoon is extremely tame. Quite remarkable. Many boaters gather there to watch TV, drink coffee and socialize.
I was unable to repair our old VHF Marine radio. Although I think I understand what the problem is (blown audio amplifier) I don't have the tools to repair it, nor the inclination since it is very old. So down to West marine we went and purchased a replacement - they are surprisingly inexpensive considering what you get. We also purchased a waterproof container for our computer, a backup GPS and a whole pile of books on cruising the Bahamas.
We met an American who came over from Cuba some days ago and wants to return. The weather, of course, is a problem, but now the Cubans have apparently decided they want all Americans out of the country during the Pope's visit. I am told that US Citizens are not prohibited from visiting Cuba - they are just prohibited from spending any money there! I was also told that if you do go the Cubans will give you a document that declares that you were a guest of the Cuban government and didn't spend any money there. It all seems quite bizarre and I don't know how much I should believe.
We (Tundra and Galiander) went to the Marathon Yacht Club on Wednesday to attend a meeting of Radio Amateurs. It was a real nice little club and a great feed. We met quite a few boaters. I got an old telegraph key from one of the members, which I can use for Morse code on the air.
The weather was hot and muggy during the week. Highs are in the low 80's. Lows are in the low 70's. The humidity stays close to 100% all the time. I can see why people in the tropics take a siesta at mid day. Even thinking hard is enough to make one break out in a sweat. A cold front moved in on the weekend allowing us to enjoy almost ideal temperatures. High's in the mid. 70's and lows in the mid. 60's and much drier air. All over the harbour you can see sheets and towels flapping in the breeze.
Eleanor engineered a big reprovisioning at the local Winn Dixie. We got a ride over with Chuck, ND7K. He is the fellow I got the telegraph key from. After filling two shopping carts we took a taxi back to the Marina. Then we updated our inventory on the computer and Eleanor removed the labels from the cans and relabeled them with a felt pen. This is because cockroach eggs are sometimes introduced into boats in the label glue.
Tundra is having someone over to give them a price on constructing them a bimini (which will keep the sun off them while they are under way). It is not clear that the people can get the work done in a timely fashion however.
Eleanor and I rented a car and drove to Key West for a day. Key West is an interesting place. Tourism is its sole business. It is packed with tourist attractions. The most popular is Ernest Hemmingway's house, which we looked at from the outside during a bus tour of the city. We walked down the main drag, Duval Street, poking around Art Galleries. I picked up some guitar strings for my guitar.
We are about ready to make the jump to the Bahamas. In fact our next correspondence may come from there. What is required is the right weather conditions. It is not far from here to the Bahamas but the crossing is complicated by the presence of the Gulf Stream, a current that runs North between the Bahamas and Florida. If the wind goes against the current, from the North, conditions can be extremely rough. So all the boaters wait patiently for the right wind conditions. This can take weeks. In any case we need to wait for the arrival of our Autohelm.
For our crossing from here we will leave about 4 in the afternoon and do an overnight run, arriving in the Bahamas in the morning.
I have put a new picture on our web site. This is a picture taken at Cape Canaveral. It shows a view of Galiander from the back with Eleanor and I aboard. To view it go to our home page at http://www.interchg.ubc.ca/coulthrd/ , then click on "Galiander" then click on "Galiander at Cape Canaveral".
We are still in Marathon waiting for a weather window for the crossing to the Bahamas. We thought we might have had one yesterday but it did not turn out to be a big enough one. We might have another opportunity on the weekend. In the meantime we will experience the passing of a cold front this evening.
Our weather information comes from two sources. We listen to the VHF Marine forecasts. The second source is a Canadian weather guru called Herb who lives in Ontario. Herb gives weather advice to offshore sailors in the Atlantic. He does this as a hobby. He is extremely highly regarded. He chats to the boaters on commercial Short Wave SSB (Single Sideband) frequencies so it is easy to listen in on his advice. When we listened to him Wednesday afternoon his advice was that if you hadn't already left - don't. And hunker down for the crossing of the cold front. We may get another chance at a window this weekend.
Our plan was to leave late in the day, cross the gulf stream overnight, pass onto the Bahamas banks early in the morning at a place called South Riding Rock then carry on during the day to a place called Chub Cay (pronouced "Key") in the Berry Islands. We would check into the Bahamian Customs there. We would like a 36 hour window for this as there are no safe anchorages until Chub Cay on this route.
We are starting to contemplate heading back up towards Miami where the crossing would be much shorter. One problem with the night crossing is that if we head out and don't like the weather in the gulf it is difficult to turn back as we would be re-entering at night. If we cross starting at Miami it is a day trip (well we would start at 5am) and if we don't like the conditions it is easy to turn back.
Another option is simply to wait until February and spend more time exploring the Florida Keys. Some of the sailors we have been meeting don't even contemplate going over until mid February. I gather the conditions and weather are better by then. By the time we went up to Key West for a visit with the boat and then came back to Miami visiting interesting places on the way, it would be mid February in any case.
The weather has been quite pleasant this week. We went to the HAM picnic on Wednesday. It is hard to believe we have been here for over a week. The picnic was held at a place called Sombrero Beach overlooking the Atlantic. We saw our first "Portuguese Man O War" jellyfish.
I (Eleanor writing now) went for a short swim keeping a close eye on the water. The jellyfish float along the surface under a clear purple bladder. When I first saw them I thought a child or a fisherman had lost a float.
Dad has formulated a new Robin Williams simple rule: Open the hatch before you try to go through it. He is rubbing his cranium and studying the hatch lid, the hard lip, this morning!
The weather game teaches me to be a bit philosophical: we are swinging on the hook in paradise-near paradise. Skies are variable blue some light clouds beautiful sunrises and sunsets. The water is aqua blue-green. NO BUGS. We wear few clothes, as few as possible. We meet new couples everyday - could socialize non-stop. (A couple from Arctic Cat a catamaran from Alaska, just dropped by to invite us for dinner tonight at the Hurricane Restaurant for wings and things). The second simple rule is "Keep lots of peanut butter on the shelf."
(John writing) The solar panels came in very handy on Tuesday. We left the battery switch in the "ALL" position Monday night and somehow the refrigerator control was turned up to maximum. Our batteries were dead by morning and we couldn't start the engine. But by 2pm the panels had recharged the batteries enough so the engine started easily. We are running our engine twice a day now.
Our repaired autopilot arrived on Wednesday. Rather an anti-climax after thinking we might have to let Tundra go without us because we were still waiting for it. Now we have everything ready and still have to wait. However we are still refining our systems, refilling our ketchup bottles, decorating, repairing, and of course reading about the Bahamas Cays, Nassau, Georgetown, the Exumas etc., etc.
A cold front came through on Thursday evening as predicted. At 11pm we got hit by a thunderstorm which sported some of the highest winds we have seen on this trip. We saw 40 knots on our instruments during one gust. Having this happen in such a crowded anchorage generated a lot of excitement. We did not sleep well that night. Four boats to the east of us dragged their anchors. Two ended up aground in shallow water. During the gust itself the rain was so heavy there was little one could do, but afterwards during the relative calm horns were blowing, people were shouting at each other and dinghies were zipping around. I was very worried about a boat that squeezed in near us during the day. During the height of the gust I looked out back and there he was... only a boat length behind us. The wind was just howling. Our faithful Bruce anchor and 50 feet of chain held just fine, yet again.
Friday morning dawned breezy. The winds were down to a mere 15-20 knots. We slept in. Later Eleanor and I reset our second anchor, a Danforth, so it did a better job of reducing our swing room. The constant wind and worry is wearing. Tundra is hoping the winds may die enough so an attempt to cross to the Bahamas on Saturday might be possible.
Saturday dawned cool and sunny. Really wonderful weather. The temperature dropped to the 60's overnight and the wind dropped to about 10 knots or less. We actually enjoyed the luxury of a blanket and had a wonderful sleep. During the day the temperature went to the 70's. Winds were from the north direction about 10 knots. Our departure got delayed again.
Now it is Sunday and we are preparing to leave for the Bahamas late today. The winds are light from the northeast. They are predicted to swing to the east late this afternoon then south for the night. Our intention is to leave Marathon early this afternoon and wait outside the harbour for the wind shift to the east. If the short term forecast goes adverse we will return to Marathon. The crossing will take approximately 15-18 hours so we should arrive before noon on Monday. Our destination will likely be Bimini or Cat Cay.
I am guess there will be about 4-6 boats going over tonight. Shibumi, anchored right between Tundra and Galiander will be leaving with us. I know of one other that is interested and Pat at the Marina thinks there are probably at least two more - so we won't be alone.
I am unsure about how email will work in the Bahamas so you may not hear from us for a while. In that case we will phone a safe arrival message to Mike or Kathy.
It is Monday. We are back at Marathon after having to abort our crossing to the Bahamas last night.
We started out Sunday about 3pm and about an hour and a half later were in the deep blue waters outside the Florida Keys and made the turn towards the Bahamas. The wind was on the nose at about 10 knots. The seas were not bad - maybe 2 feet. The weather forecast was still for the wind to rotate to the south. Although the progress was slow into the wind, the travelling was not very uncomfortable, and based on the weather forecast we decided to push on in anticipation that the wind would be come favourable as the night wore on. The first part of the trip was just outside the Florida Keys, not out in the Gulf Stream - yet.
Galiander's engine started to overheat. It turned out to be only a bunch of weed in the raw intake filter so we were on our way again in 10 minutes. The wind had still not started to change direction.
Then, as the sun was going down, Tundra called a halt. An exhaust pipe on her engine had split. Her engine was down. They had a spare exhaust pipe but it could only be used temporarily and the engine would have to cool before they could install it. The wind had still not started to change direction. Still on the nose.
We decided to sail back to Marathon. This turned out to be quite pleasant, if one ignored the circumstances. Tundra had radar. We both had GPS and in the case of Galiander I had entered our course into the GPS as a "route", a series of waypoints (turning points if you wish) that would take us to our destination. The route can be inverted, which is what we did, and we could follow the GPS course back to the entrance of the Marathon harbour. About the only thing we had to worry about was crabpots as we got into shallower water close to Marathon. Eleanor used a powerful searchlight to pick out those nuisances.
As we were sailing back, which was lovely, I noticed in the silence that the bilge pump was running all the time. So I checked that out and discovered a bottle lid under the float. Freed that. Made sure the pump was still operating ok. Then as I was getting up the boat lurched and I grabbed the dinette table for support. The top ripped right off it. "Gee Whiz!" I said.
Eleanor entertained herself by cleaning the bilge on the return. We did not attempt to enter the harbour in darkness, but simply anchored in the lee of the Key. The winds were light. We fell into bed (after stoking up with spaghetti) exhausted about 10:30 and slept like logs. The wind was still from the Northeast, even seeming to go back to the north.
Tuesday dawned calm and a little lumpy. The wind swung to the south at about 5 knots in the morning. In the afternoon it was already moving to the west. The front which is generating this shift had stalled so the swing to the south came much later than expected. If we had continued on we would have faced that north east wind much longer than we planned.
Tundra installed their spare exhaust pipe this morning. Then we proceeded back to the inner harbour and anchored close to our old locations. Tundra found a welder to repair their exhaust pipe. It will be ready on Wednesday. In a way Tundra is lucky, the breakdown could have occurred under much more unfavourable circumstances.
We are beginning to have more second thoughts about leaving from here. Better to head back towards Miami. For example Lower Matecumbe Key, where we were with Tundra on New Year's day, a modest day trip from here, is almost in a direct line between here and the Bahamas and would save us a many hours on the crossing. The downside to that location is that it is not easy to get supplies or repair one's boat. Marathon is ideal for that.
Tundra got a very good response to their maintenance needs. They took their exhaust pipe to two welding outfits. The one they left it at said they could get it back in three days then actually did it in two. Brian and Kathy also decided to get their alternator, which has 20 years service on it, maintained and the outfit did that just as quickly. So late on Tuesday afternoon Brian was covered with grease and Tundra was back in good shape again.
Then we all went over to a place called Dockside, a harbourside bar, for cocktails, music and a bite to eat. We met a couple named Norman & Suzanne from "ZAN-BAR" a Manatee Trawler. Brian and Kathy met this couple years ago up in Georgian Bay, Lake Huron. We also met their friends Frank and Jinny from a trawler called "Medrick". This all resulted in an invitation to ZAN-BAR for supper on Wednesday night.
The weekly HAM luncheon also happens on Wednesday. We dinghied over to the Marathon Marina to join Jim and Connie on Gaviota then proceeded to the luncheon from there. (John never mentions the menus: The luncheon was a scrumptious smorgasbord of beef, chicken, fish and all the extras. Soups, salads, and assortments of pies - key lime pie is my favorite -with creams and chocolate sauce. The only thing I missed was the rich hot corned beef served the previous time. The cookie looks forward to these treats as change from Galiander's galley.)
After our return Jim gave me some software to allow me to transfer waypoints from our GPS units to and from our computer. This will make it quite a bit easier to manage this data. Soon it was time to get back to Galiander in order to be ready for the ride to ZAN-BAR for supper.
ZAN-BAR is moored at a place called Coco Plum about 7 miles towards Miami from here. Their moorage is what you might call a "slip - condominium". You can purchase a slip for your boat in the same way one purchases a condominium. For from $30,000 to $80,000 US funds you purchase a slip, a small piece of land in front of your slip, a parking space for your car and access to some conveniences, for example washrooms. The slip includes power, cablevision and telephone hookups. And you can rent it out to other people when you are away.
Norm came and picked us up in his car. It was a nice outing. ZAN-BAR is a 37 foot trawler about 14 feet wide. Talk about space. It was like sitting in a real living room. They have a *real* refrigerator. The boat has a 90 horsepower engine and they typically cruise it at about 6 and a half knots. When we think about how many times we have hoisted the sails on this trip...
It was a lovely evening. We had barbecued Salmon. We are feeling quite well fed.
We have missed what weather window was available on the weekend. Eleanor and I contemplated heading back towards Miami, in order to get closer to the Bahamas. But then the winds piped up over 15 knots and we decided to stay and enjoy Marathon. One of the problems with attempting to cross at this time of the year is that the winds tend to be strong and the windows of opportunity short. When the winds build up it is nice to be able to stay in a nice protected anchorage until things calm down. We have used No Name harbour, Boca Chita, Tarpon Basin and Marathon to that purpose. While Marathon may be a relatively long way from the Bahamas it has the great advantage of having lots of facilities. Some of these other harbours are much more isolated. So if you have to wait, Marathon is not such a bad place to do it.
Many of the experienced gulf stream crossers we have chatted to have no intention of crossing until late in February when conditions are better. After all, they point out, you can either be pinned down in a harbour like Marathon, with lots of facilities, or pinned down in a harbour somewhere in the Bahamas with no facilities. It is clear what their preferences are.
Tundra left for the Bahamas on Friday afternoon. We elected to stay in Marathon, not feeling as comfortable about the weather predictions as they were. As it turned out the predicted winds that we were worried about simply did not materialize. Tundra had a quite reasonable motor sail across the gulf and passed onto the Bahamas Banks before noon on Saturday. They carried straight on across the banks to Nassau, arriving there sometime late on Sunday. It was a fast trip. We talked to them on HAM radio this morning (Monday).
Back in Marathon we are waiting for a weather window again. We are expecting to travel with a catamaran called Arctic Cat with Dave and Jan aboard. Originally all three of us (Galiander, Tundra and Arctic Cat) intended to go at the same time but last Friday Arctic Cat read the weather forecast the same way we did. Dave and Jan have crossed the Gulf Stream five times since 1990. We got together on Sunday afternoon to listen to Herb, the weather guru, and review the weather forecast. Our plan is to move a day closer up the keys when it looks like a window is approaching and then head over from there.
It looks like we will have no decent weather until later in the week. Today, Monday, we are experiencing a lot of rain. Tuesday the wind is predicted to swing around to the south, which sounds good, but the swing will continue rapidly around to the west and the winds are predicted to be strong building to 20-25 knots and gusty. The long range forecast for Wednesday and Thursday is for clear skies. Perhaps then?
We are definitely in the mood for moving on now.
The Pope's visit to Cuba is generating a certain amount of interest around here. Cuba is barring all US boats from Cuba for the duration of the visit. There is concern that some Cuban Nationalists might like to take the opportunity to create an "incident". The American Coast Guard and the Navy is busy right outside checking boats. We can hear them hailing boats on channel 16, "The sailboat sailing at 255 degrees outside the Sombrero Light this is the US Warship a half mile off your bow, shining a light on your sail...". Then they collect information about the boat, where they came from and where they are going to.
While we wait we are continuing to explore more corners of Marathon. On Saturday we went cycling with Jim and Connie from Gaviota Tu. We did a little shopping, had lunch at a neat little family restaurant called Herbies, then cycled out to a place called Pigeon Key. Pigeon Key is about two miles away from Marathon along the old original Key West railroad/highway bridge. It has long since become obsolete by a new bridge that spans the seven miles from here to the next key, but a short section survives as a bike and walking path. One can look down into the water and occasionally see Gar fish, Mantas and Sharks (We only saw Gar's - long skinny fish).
"No night lasts forever and every wind blows itself out." - p214, Out Island Doctor, by Evans W. Cottman.
The weather was quite unusual during the day and night on Monday. It rained almost steadily the whole time. But this was not the typical Florida rain we have become used to. Normally when it rains here it RAINS HARD. This rain was more like a Vancouver rain. Steady and very low accumulations. The temperatures have been cool, going down to the 60's at night and going up to the low 70's during the day. The winds were very light here in the anchorage and we had two really excellent sleeps.
It is Tuesday night (January 27th). The wind outside is blowing about 20 knots. Galiander bucks and heaves impotently at her anchor. This is not serious weather and this is as bad as it is predicted to get. About the only thing to fear is the possibility that some recently arrived boat in this crowded anchorage did not put down their anchor correctly and might drag down or swing onto other boats. But, as I look out for the 5th time at the nearby boats, I realize that all is secure.
Oops, one hour later: As we were calmly sitting down for dinner, we heard a feeble "Help" Help" through the front hatch and quickly realized that a boat had dragged it's anchor and was looming down on us in the dark.
By the time we got to the bow of our boat the neighbouring sailboat had it's rudder hooked on our anchor line and the whole family was working to keep the two boats separated. We quickly got some fenders (rubber bumpers) between the two boats. An older sailor aboard was trying to direct salvage operations, suggesting that we power up on our anchor so the anchor line would go slack and release their rudder. John, in his wisdom, kindly suggested an alternative. He suggested they attach a line to their bow and we pull their boat carefully backwards to clear the anchor line. Thank heavens our Bruce anchor held us both until they were pulled backwards and floated free. All spreader lights were on and lots of hands were on deck. There was no serious danger. It did seem a bit ironic, happening so soon after John felt we were all secure for the night.
On the VHF Marine radio the United States Coast Guard announces, "Pan pan, pan pan, pan pan - a red flare has been sighted off Washerwoman Shoals... (just outside the harbour)" . We did not sleep peacefully that night. Eleanor read till midnight, then continued reading the "Out Island Doctor" from 3:30am to 6:00am. Good reading, especially the part where he swims across the creek with his dinghy line in his teeth in the middle of of a hurricane to get back to his boat.
We are frustrated at our inability to move on. One thing that separates cruising life from other types of travel is control over when one can move. If you are traveling in a car, plane or train for example, it is very seldom that the weather will prevent you from doing so. Our movement, on the other hand, is strongly affected by the weather systems. It is important to accept this reality to really enjoy cruising life.
Herb the weather guru has been advising boaters waiting to cross the gulf stream to "hunker down". There might we a window by Thursday or Friday he says. This current system of three fronts is supposed to blow through by the end of Wednesday. We are well south of the main action. The winds are much stronger in central Florida.
I have been taking advantage of the fallow time to do a few more projects. I now have a cord wired up for our GPS units so that the waypoints can be loaded to and from our computer. This is quite useful. It means I can program one GPS unit and then easily transfer all the information into the backup. It also makes it very simple to trade waypoints and routes with other people. For example I have waypoints and routes donated from Jim on Gaviota on our computer now.
During the lulls in the rain we have been launching the kayak and exploring the Mangrove forests to the south of us. I have also been going swimming in the harbour.
Marathon does have many wonderful seafood restaurants. We invited Judy and John from "Morning Star" to play bridge on the boat. They have an Irwin 37 in the Marathon Yacht Club and don't get out on the water very often right now. They took us to lunch in Summerland Key about 30 minutes south of here for grilled dolphin sandwiches. (These are not the dolphins we see playing around the harbour but a deep sea, snub-nosed fish commonly caught off shore here). The other popular fish offered here is grouper. Other offerings are lobsters, oysters, stuffed crab, stone crab claws, a variety of shrimp, snapper and other fish filets. After a piece of the ubiquitous Key lime pie, we drove home viewing the many diving boats and anchored sailboats along the route. We dinghied back to the boat and had a lazy fun afternoon playing bridge. Another first, afternoon bridge! If we're not formally retired we are at least going through the motions.
Now it is Wednesday evening. Things are looking positive. The last of the fronts is just passing through with paltry 15-knot winds and relatively clear skies. Herb indicates that there is no exciting weather on the horizon until at least Sunday. We are planing to move along the keys towards Miami tomorrow with Arctic Cat, anchoring near a place called Key Largo. This will get us 6 to 8 hours closer to the Bahamas. If the weather develops as predicted we will leave for the Bahamas very early in the morning on Friday and should arrive mid afternoon at Cat Cay. If the weather turns against us we will hunker down in a very protected basin called Key Largo Lake. Assuming we reach the Bahamas we may check through customs at Cat Cay or may wait until we reach Chub Cay in the Berry Islands a full day later. I don't know what the cellphone access will be like, either at Key Largo or in the Bahamas, but when we do clear customs, if there is no email access, we will leave a safe arrival message with Kathy.
The excitement builds - I hope we are not disappointed this time.
Revised: March 18, 2008