|So goes weather forecasting, Where were the 10-15 NNE winds?|
|Things got even smoother...soon it was like glass.|
|The next morning...CALM|
Tens miles off nearing the bend to Florida Bay
|These guys passed in front and appeared to be on a course to Key West|
|They did a horizon job on us as we maintained 4 knots to avoid entering Marathon in the Dark|
|Here you see the old railroad bridge where a section was removed to allow us to enter, the 7 mile bridge in front at 90 feet.|
|Just as we enter the chanel to the bridges, the winds pipe up!|
|Finally caught up with Al and Sue on their Lord Nelson "Wind Dancer", they left two weeks ahead of us from Fulton, TX. They are staging with several cruisers here to return to the Exumas. They like Georgetown so they plan to spend the winter there.|
|Just one of the dingy docks at Marathon City Marina, there are lots more down by the office which is at the outer end on the right.|
|Dinner at Burdines, this restaurant is above the fuel dock and right at the entrance to Boot Key Harbor.|
|Excellent sunsets from Burdines|
|Big Catamaran returning from a sunset sail in the Atlantic|
Phase II Begins
Day 1/II –Day 3/II
Tampa Bay to Marathon Boot Key Harbor
Depart 11-26 1245hrs Arrive 11-28 11:30 hrs. Underway 46:45hrs, 246 Nm, Avg. speed 4.6 kts. NNE winds 0-10kts. 68-78 degrees, clear skies, Fog 11-27 at 1900 hrs through 11-28 0700 hrs, avg. rpm 1200. Seas calm to FLAT.Everything came together perfectly the last week at Westshore. While helping our Friend John with getting SeaClear loaded on his Laptop he volunteered to help crew Wand’rin Star to Marathon. Johny our E dock Buddy and retired Daytona Policeman volunteered to drive the Admiral down and pick up John for the return trip to Tampa. The original plan was to depart Westshore at 8pm Monday evening so we would arrive in the shallows of Florida Bay in daylight at 6am on Wed. and arrive in Boot Key Harbor by 12 noon. John makes this trip every year single-handing on his 44’ CSY. Besides having lots of local knowledge he is a retired Merchant Marine Engineer and has spent his life plowing the world’s oceans on huge ships, tows and tugs. He hinted that we might want to exit Westshore earlier so we would have daylight to navigate the Southwest Passage past Egmont Key into the Gulf. After some thought, (since I knew this would add up to 8 hours to the trip) I knew he was right. Even though we had 4 days to prepare after the final plan was made, the Admiral and I was very busy the last day and a-half attending to last minute details and provisioning. John arrived at the boat by 11am to stow his gear and by 1215 hours the engine was started. John went to fill our cooler with ice and by the time he returned we were about ready to go, he coiled the shore power line and I started tossing off dock lines. Kissed the Admiral Goodbye and at 1245 hours we were motoring out into the bay. The winds were SW 0-5 but there was a forecast of 10-15 NE winds later and we hoped that by the time we entered the Gulf we could get the sails up and enjoy a fine sail down the coast. We were well into the Gulf by 1700 hours and now wind, calm seas, about 6” waves. Go Yanmar. We worked our way to our charted line 10 miles offshore. One couple who owns a 57’ Nordhaven and had recently made a trip around to Miami told the Admiral you had to be at least 6 miles off to avoid the lines of Crab traps. This was Stone Crab Season and so the traps are everywhere. I thought that if you got into deep enough water then there would be no traps, but it is not a depth thing instead it is a bottom type thing. It the conditions on the bottom are good for Stone Crabs then that is where the traps are whatever the depth. John had hit them on several crossings and if he tangled up in one at night he would just drag it until daylight and if the conditions were not to rough he would jump in and free the pot. If conditions were not good he would just drag it till he got anchored in Marathon where he could jump in and clear the line. Of course he is always by himself so jumping off the boat out in the Gulf of Mexico may not always be the best course of action. He asked me if I had dive gear just in case, and yes I have a wet suit and even a Hooka system on board so if we had to I could jump in and take care of business. The marina Harbor master said if we stay 10 miles off we could avoid the crab traps. We saw Thousands of traps 10+ miles off so we just motored on. The moonlight was bright so you could even see them at night. Occasionally we would interrupt the autohelm and dodge one but most of the time our course just put us between the pots. We agreed on a 4-hour watch and the first watch began at 2000 hours. John took the 1st watch and I went below to rest/sleep.
Just before we turned the bend to the East the winds picked up and we actually sailed for 2 hours, then we had to make the turn towards Marathon and the 5-10 was on the nose. We left the main out the rest of the trip as a steadying sail. By 1730 on Tuesday there was a bit of haze building and the seas were flat and mirror like. Two sailboats appeared off our Port Beam, they motored across our course and John said they were probably headed to Key West. They soon were out of sight since we maintained 4 knots to avoid entering the shallow waters of Florida Bay in the dark. Realizing we might have a bit of fog to deal with I played with the radar and managed to set the gain high enough to actually see the pots coming, but as long as there was daylight it was easy to compare the tiny targets on the screen to the pots coming at you. After dark you could not tell if the small targets were real or just clutter. By 2000 hours the haze was fog and there was no way to see the crab pots coming even with the excellent moon. We often saw the pots within feet of our beam but luckily we never snagged one. John took the watch and I went below to rest/sleep. When I came back on watch at 1200 I knew it would be interesting with the fog. About two hours into the watch at least 20+ dolphins surrounded the boat playing on the bow wake, a group following and a group abeam on each side. It was like we had this Dolphin convoy escort. The boat was on autohelm which steered the boat flawlessly and we used for at least 95% of the trip.I sat forward of the helm where I could see the dolphins for what seemed almost 10 minutes. Then just as I began to fight off the sleepyies, I began to see some lights through the fog...that will make you wake up! I could tell the lights were far away but they help maintain a keen sense of alertness as sometimes the fog was dense and other times we seemed to motor into a clear area of light fog. Yes, with the binoculars I could make out Land lights, it was a town or community along the Keys. But there were also bouy lights and possibly fishing boats to watch out for. I purposely stayed on for an extra 45 minutes to allow John to get some good rest as he would have the helm during the last several hours as we navigated the shallow waters near the entrance to Marathon and into the Atlantic. I awoke him and as he took over the helm I reviewed the lights I had been seeing and went below to crash.
I came up early to join John at 0730 Wed. and we were near the sea buoy to Knight Key Channel. I told him to push it up to 6 knots since we had plenty of daylight and the fog had lifted. We discussed the effects on a diesel running it for extended periods at low RPM so we both agreed it would be good for the Yanmar to run her on up to 2500 and burn some diesel. The winds from the North begin to build as we approached the 7-mile bridge. Typical for cruising, the winds come when you get there to test your docking skills. We soon passed through the 7-mile bridge and we rolled in the mainsail within minutes we were at Burdines. I usually make a pass just to check things out and plan my approach to dock, but with John on board he quickly noticed there was an ebb tide and we would b e fine with just a bow line allowing the ebb to swing us to the dock, It worked great even though the North winds would have typically blown us off the dock. I had no clue how much fuel we would use on this trip. It has always been easy to figure since we always averaged 6 knots at 1800-2000 RPM and this equaled 1-gallon per hour. So I was just guessing we would probably take on 30 gallons when we got to Burdines Fuel at the entrance to Boot Key Harbor in Marathon. To my amazement we only used just over 28 gallons for the 46+ hour trip. And since John knew the folks at Burdines we got to fill up the water tanks for free, avoiding the $.15 cents per gallon. John got caught up on local news and we were off to catch a Mooring Ball. Cruisers Al and Sue whom we met in Rockport at a Musical Festival just over a year ago were here in Boot Key Harbor so when I raised the Dock Master on VHF16 I told her we would like to be close to our friends on S/V Wind Dancer. She gave us a mooring Ball right next to them on T3: http://ci.marathon.fl.us/government/departments/marina-and-ports/mooring-balls-and-info/ We picked up the mooring ball easily and it was the first time I had used the wireless Ram mic for the VHF to communicate from the bow to the helm.(because I finally read the owners Manuel and learned how operate it finally) Works great, no yelling back to the helm. We got the boat squared away and made plans for the afternoon. John had a friend here that had a propeller for his CSY. So we planned a rendezvous by dingy with a mutual friend who was storing the prop in her back yard on a small canal just past Pauncho’s fuel dock. It took a couple of tries but we finally located the house and John had his new prop in hand. Time for food. John suggested Burdines and it was easy since that is where we had to park the dingy to get to this ladies house. We had a great tasting meal and a great sunset looking out over the entrance to Boot Key Harbor.