Adventure Vista

Cruising Florida 2010 - 433 nautical miles on a Com-Pac 16

 
Enjoying the Cruising Life at Bahia Honda State Park, Florida Keys 
 
Welcome to Bob and Molly's Florida Cruising Adventure, winter 2010. We sailed a Com-Pac 16 sailboat 433 nautical miles through the Florida Everglades and the Keys. This is Molly's trip journal, in full. If you're like me and have a short attention span, scan and read around the highlighted areas for more interesting sections of our trip, for a small taste of our excitement, read day 48. For you landlubbers, there is a glossary for nautical terms at the end. Enjoy the pics and the stories!

***Thank you for your feedback. We have moved on from sailing, have sold our little Com-Pac, and are not currently sewing marine canvas***

Want to see all the photos from Cruising Florida 2010, click here. I would check out the photos below first!

 

 
Towing the Classic Cosmos with the VW Westfalia  - We have our priorities straight.
 

Pretrip Notes

It looked like it was going to be a long cold winter. We had been toiling away on our Tartan 27 restoration, wondering what we were going to do: too cold to get much work done on the Tartan, too cold to live in the boatyard – renting a house would be a bad investment of our limited cash, what else can we do? We had thought our Tartan would be ready to go for the winter, but we were wrong. “Hmmm....,” Bob says one day, “let's buy a small trailer-able sailboat and take it to Florida.” I didn't have to think about that too long, “OK, sounds great! Our Tartan isn't ready, but we are. Plus I could use the experience on the water before taking off in the Tartan.” I was willing to do almost anything to get out of NC and the boatyard during the cold months. So after researching all our options, we decided upon a Compac 16, safe, reliable, good reputation and following, solid construction, big enough to live aboard (camping style), small enough to tow with our VW Westfalia, and within our budget. We searched the internet, and before we knew it, we had found one in town for sale, purchased her, and dropped all work on the Tartan to get her ready for Florida.

She was a beautifully maintained black-hulled boat with cream topsides, with nary a scratch in her gelcoat despite her 20 some years of life. But we did have a few jobs to complete before leaving, which of course, as departure time neared, seemed to double up on us. Here is a partial list: Bob's jobs...replace standing rigging, re-bed all deck hardware, design and construct hatch boards with compass and gimbled stove mounts, rebuild trailer, install oar locks, wire bow light, cabin lights, running lights, remove and sell the engine (yeah, we don't like them stinky pollutin' thangs), find and mount a BBQ grill (for fresh fish), find anchors and rode, build a battery box, figure out boat registration, replace bow rail, wax outside, paint transom where motor mount was removed; Molly's jobs...build new mainsail, construct cockpit cushions, sew up an awning with screens, sew screened companionway cover, be Bob's go-for. Well you get the idea. It took much of November and all of December of us running around like crazy to accomplish everything. Finally, on Jan. 7 we loaded up and headed out.

The drive down took a few days. We know that each time we get into our old VW, we're rolling the dice as to whether she'll make it. In the 3 years we've owned her, we traveled across the country and numerous times to the Amtrak, 150 miles away. But she's old and the NC climate is rough on her, the rust is accumulating at a rapid pace. So we had just made it over the NC state line, when at a stoplight in Myrtle Beach, she lost the “go” and made a terrible clunking sound. The VW had broke down. Could it be the transmission? Upon inspection, Bob found that the some of the bolts to the drive shaft had come out and the last few had torqued and snapped off (on a Vanagon, there are two drive shafts, one for each rear wheel, coming from the transmission which sits with the engine located in the rear of the vehicle). First, we had to get the car and boat into a safe area, we had coasted off the highway into an entrance to a gated community. This was not an optimal location, us with our brown rusty VW Westfalia with classy sailboat parked on some flowers inside a gated community on a cold dark night. A police officer came by to help and called a tow. The driver showed up and kept laughing at us. We knew the situation was comical, but what was hid deal? Finally, Bob inquired about the price, he said, oh it will be $300 to move it 5 blocks to the nearest Napa (because the police placed the call). We told him to get bent. He didn't like that, but since the police made the call, we told him to take the matter up with them. So now what? We called our friend Ron, a mechanic, back in Oriental. He said that it might not be the transmission, as only one of the rear axels is rotated by the engine, and he helped us find the numbers of other tow companies. A tow would cost at least $150, and that was $150 more than we had in our budget, but one of the drivers told us that we should go to the nearby Lowe's, not the Napa whose parking lot was the size of a postage stamp. So now we had a location, but how do we get there? If the car needed a repair (and when is car repair ever cheap), then we'd have to be smart about only spending money if we absolutely had to, sometimes that means elbow grease, hard work, and creative thinking.

Bob found a lady at the nearby BoJangle's with a tow hitch, and she graciously moved our boat 3/4 mile up the road to a Lowe's parking lot. Then the hard part, we had to push the van, up the hill to the parking lot. So we huffed and we puffed and we spat and we gasped for air all the way up the hill. When we got to the parking lot, Bob passed out in the gutter. There was no way we were going to leave our beloved boat in that parking lot all alone for the night, so we stayed in the van. It got down to 25 degrees that night. The next morning, we unthawed in a Denny's and discussed our options. We would try to fix the car, but if not we'd maybe buy one and continue on...Bob saw that the bolts that connected the axel to the wheel had sheered off. So we hoped if we extracted the bolts and replaced them, we could be on our way. The first 2 bolts came off no problem. The last one was stuck. How do we get it out in the middle of a parking lot? We had our drill, but had no electrical outlet. We could purchase an expensive cordless drill, but then we'd have to wait 4-8 hours while it charged. As Bob was walking back to the van to review our options, he noticed an outlet on the side of the Lowe's building. He paced off 298 feet from the outlet to our van at the other end of the parking lot. “That's it!” he exclaimed. He went back inside, purchased 300 feet of extension cord, connected one end to the building, and laid the rest across the parking lot to our van. I, in the mean time was thinking about how we could sell the VW for scrap and purchase and register another car so we could go sailing. Luckily, we didn't have to go used car shopping. Bob's plan worked, and he was able to extract the final bolt, and replace the bolts with ones purchased inside Lowe's. After the work was done, I carefully rolled the extenstion cords back up, and promptly returned them. So $10, 2 hours and an icey night later, we were back on the road. And that's why we own a VW van.

And you thought this was a story about Jimmy Buffet and sundowners in Florida! Well, back on the road, we made our way to Clearwater to the Compac factory where we met Gerry Hutchins and the wonderful folks who made our boat. We had to pick up a bow rail. Then, as luck would have it, we visited some friends of ours who live near Tampa. Jim and Laurie hosted us for 2 days while we installed the bow rail and finished up some odds and ends that weren't possible in NC due to the unusually cold weather. Well-fed and our minds filled with new tidbits from wonderful conversation, we got back on the road, destination: Everglades City, with brief stops at Wal-Mart for fishing licenses and the Publix for provisions.

We camped under the bridge at Everglades City, the next morning we packed up the boat. It is amazing what you can pack into a Compac 16. We had all our gear strewn about, like a yard sale. More than one person came by inquiring what we were up to, “We're going on an adventure!” we told them.. After packing up, we headed to the Backcountry Marina (visit www.backcountrymarina.com ), where Mark agreed to watch the VW and trailer for 2 months for a very reasonable price. Then to the Rod and Gun Club to launch, and here we go!

 

 
Enjoying the Sunset our First Night Out 
Cosmos at dock at the Rod and Gun Club
 

Day 1 – Jan 15, 2010 – The trip to Everglades City – 5 nm

Traveled from Everglades City's Rod and Gun Club through Barron River and Chokoloskee Bay to a mangrove at Russel Bay off marker 7. Paid $10 to launch at historic Rod and Gun Club, with it's varnished cypress interior, animal heads, and copper fire place. It 's like we've been running a marathon to get to this point: from last-minute projects on the boat in freezing North Carolina to the drive down to Florida in a 1984 VW Westfalia, towing the boat.

As I sat in the boat while Bob took the car back to the Backcountry Marina, my nerves started wearing through. I'm like this at the start of all our adventures. Had we prepared enough? Will we drag anchor? Did we buy enough food, have enough water? Did we bring too much, what could we leave behind? We decided that we would treat the first couple days as a shakedown: we can return to Everglades City if we need to before continuing south, and that helped to ease my mind.

Bob was in high spirits as he came back to the dock, and we christened the boat with a little whiskey on her bow. We named her Cosmos, which is the universe and everything in it. We had been reading Carl Sagan, and with her black hull color and her promise to take us on many wonderful adventures to far places, Cosmos was perfect. And the name is also the hailing port, we are all made of star stuff after all.

As we left the dock and started on our adventure, we failed to check the tide and we were forced to short tack against the strong flowing tidal current. We knew better than this, but were too excited to wait for the tide to change. As a result, we lightly pin-balled off a dock. But with determination, we were able to row and short tack our way past the palm tree-lined neighborhoods of Everglade City and into the Mangroves. The setting sun left the sky all shades of rose and lavender as we dropped anchor for the first time. With 4 feet of tide and 2 feet of draft, we needed at least 6 feet of water under us at high tide. It was mid-tide and we had 4 feet of water under us, so we set both the CQR and the Bruce with 30 feet of scope (about 7 to 1 scope) off the bow in the Bahamian anchor style.

 

 

 
Red Mangrove and Roots in Sugar Sand - Everglades National Park 
Osprey Nest at Marker 7 out of Everglades City 
 
Day 2 – Jan. 16, 2010 – Circumnavigation of Jack Daniels Key – 5 nm/10 for trip

We sailed 5 nm in 4 hours of sailing today. Lots of tacking, going south with 10-15 knots of winds coming S-SE. It took nearly all day to get around Jack Daniels Key, then with Molly at helm, we looked for a place to anchor, coming around the back of the key, followed a tour boat, running down wind, our sails out wing-and-wing, we lost our location on the chart for about 10 minutes, and before we knew it, we were back at marker 7. Three and a half hours of tacking and all it did was take 15 minutes of being lost to end up back at the starting point. Ooops! It is amazing how different points of sail change the speed of the boat. All in all, it was a nice sunny day.

Heard Manitees or the breathe of a mammal, could have been Dolphins. Saw many large wading birds. Anchored bow and stern in shallow water. I hope we don't drag as we prepare for strong thunderstorms to blast in from the S-SW tonight. We'll likely pull down the awning and sleep in the cabin just in case it rains.

I experimented with cooking beans and rice in a thermos – this is not working, beans still hard after soaking all day in hot water (this method worked in my pot in NC, but I had to bring the beans back to a boil mid-day, not unlike keeping them in a crock-pot all day). But the thermos won't work, should have tested this new method before embarking on this journey...

It is fun to watch the Mangrove drain, revealing the tree roots like so many deciduous legs crawling their way out to sea during low tide. Many dead fish floating in the scum lines. There are thousands of dead fish in all sizes. I am not all convinced that its the cold water, how could the water temperature drop so quickly? The water in NC stays fairly warm all year, but fish die there because of environmental pollutants caused by humans...I will have to find out more. (We later find out that the shallow water here changes temperature rapidly, and it was the cold that killed the fish. They also lost hundreds of alligators and manatees as well in that cold snap in early January.) Tomorrow we check the weather, we may wait until the winds clock to the north to move on.

In the morning:

The storm came through in the early a.m. bringing a couple brief gust of 25 knots, we didn't even tug at the anchors because we had nestled into the mud as the water dropped below 2 feet of depth. It was cozy down below – even for Bob who has a tendency to be claustrophobic in tight areas while sleeping. Our births have plenty of head room, but about waist level, the cabin trunk comes down, leaving 20 inches or so for our lower halves. The low tide this morning revealed oyster beds, there are oysters clinging to the roots and vines of the mangroves. Upon seeing this, early explorer, Sir Francis Drake, reported that oysters came from Mangrove Trees! We are unsure if harvesting them is safe, especially with the fish kill. So far it has been a great shakedown, we will continue on south. (I later learned from a fisherman that Oysters that live part of their lives above tidal water levels are unsafe to eat.)

Day 3 – Jan. 17, 2010 – To the Lower 10,000 Islands – 7nm/17 for trip

Slow getting around this morning – waiting for rain to pass, which it did. Also sat on the bottom for a bit (like we're doing now.) The rice and bean cooking isn't working for us. They don't cook in the thermos like I had expected (or guessed), should have purchased minute rice like we do for backpacking. So this morning we had our usual food fight. I feel stupid for being so stubborn and trying to will something to work, instead of using experimentation. I guess the Greeks were wrong, reasoning isn't the answer to everything. Bob has trusted me to do the food pack and once again I loused it up. As usual we found a solution, and we don' t feel like we'll be any worse for it. We have plenty of food to skip on any planned bean and rice meals until our next resupply. (Why does it always come down to the beans and rice? See trip journal for Grand Canyon 2009, the fight at Unkar.)

We're now getting into the groove of the adventure. Figuring out the waters, tides, depth calculations, anchoring techniques, boat organization, balancing work with enjoyment. I can't decide if I'm happier staying busy, because there is an endless list of things to do or if I should relax. Maybe I can figure out a way to do both....whistle while you work, right?


The scenery is magical, especially at low tide – actually watching the cycle of tides rising up to touch the greenery of the Mangrove and slowly draining away to reveal the root structures and Dr. Seuss land, oyster beds, vines covered with sea life, it has all been fascinating. Tomorrow, we have a day full of watching the tides, sailing to our next anchorage and enjoying wildlife and being with my partner on an adventure.
 

 
"Walking Trees" of the Florida Everglades 
 
Day 4 – Jan. 18, 2010 – MLK Day – To New Turkey Key – 7nm/ 24 for trip

7 nm in 5 hours puts us at 2-2.5 knots. Great sail today with genoa and main, weaving behind mangroves and in the Gulf to behind New Turkey Key. Think I saw a Manatee off in the distance this morning, kicking around. Watched a hawk fish and catch birds, saw a flock of white ibis or herons, saw 2 dolphins after arriving at the anchorage. Sailed into the anchorage, behind a sandy island that is also a NPS campsite. Another small sailboat and dude camping at the beach are already there. The boat seemed familiar, could it have come through Oriental? Attempts to hail the sailors on the radio failed, we couldn't figure out how to change the channels, so we called out to them, inviting them for whiskey. We added new hand-helds to our growing shopping list, and waited for friends to join us. It was a beautiful golden sunset. We put up the awning, I might sleep in the cockpit tonight...

The folks from Nomad came over for whiskey and chocolate. Out of all things that could be possible, I had met these two in Oriental just a month or so before. They were headed down the ICW from Canada and now their destination was the Bahamas. We enjoyed their company, and reveled in this chance encounter, what are the odds?
 
Day 5 – Jan. 19, 2010 – Little Shark River – 23nm/ 47 for trip

Great Sail. Practiced dead reckoning, figured speed at 4 knots in N wind, pushing us south. We sailed all day, light airs in the morning, increasing throughout the day. Ran with the drifter – nice to have full suit of sails. Fished a bit- no takers. Lots of dead fish around. I've been studying the ecology of the Mangrove forests. The Mangroves have now changed from Red Mangroves to Black Mangroves along the shore, getting lots taller. Red Mangroves usually grow on the seaward side, slowly encroaching into open water, the seeds grow on the mother until they get too heavy, then they send a shoot down into the water to grow or to float on the water. Babies can float suspending their plant parts above the saline water for up to 3 months, then it germinates and takes root as soon as it hits mud, like minutes later. The soil builds up in the roots of the Red Mangrove, eventually allowing the Black Mangrove to grow, these taller trees send down deep roots as well as shoots that come up through mud to gather oxygen, further inland, the stabalized soils allow a third species of Mangrove to thrive, the White Mangrove. This succession in Mangroves is a bit like that of recent humans: Reds give way to Blacks give way to Whites, this little coincidence helped us to keep the tree species straight, and provided for some laughs. Many creatures live in the root systems of mangroves, some being revealed at low tide where the birds feast, others stay in the water, like the many fish species who use the root systems as a nursery. We see dolphin nearly every day – still waiting for a positive manatee id.

It was cool last night, but as a high pressure system moves east, the wind will clock to the south and temps will increase. About 8 boats are at the anchorage tonight. We kept clear of them and anchored off to the side of the channel. Our first drop placed us in a swirling tidal eddy, we weighed anchor and rowed out to the middle. A fast current pushes down this river, increased by the tides, necessitated 2 anchors: one upriver, one down. This also reduced the radical swing felt by using only 1 anchor. The anchors are ran off the bow – the Bahamian method.

 

 
Cormorants Perched on a Marker 
The Vultures Circle Overhead 
 

Day 6 – Jan. 20, 2010 - Explore up Little Shark River – 3 nm/ 50 for tip

The fish started feeding at exactly 10:40 am, low tide. White Ibis feed on crayfish on the muddy flats, also identified Glossy Ibis with the grey color, down-turned bill, orange legs, and eating fish. We explored up the Little Shark River. Black Mangrove gave way to Red Mangrove at the water's edge. We rowed and sailed, but mostly floated with the flowing tide to Oyster Bay. It is a peaceful shallow bay, surrounded with high mangrove islands. Lots of dolphins. Our first sun-shower refreshed us after a hot day. Used 2.5 gallons. I think we would both have a more complete shower if we filled the bag full to 5 gallons. Attack mosquitoes descended just before dinner – catching us unprepared. We scrambled to erect the awning and drop the screens and proceeded to create a mosquito blood bath inside our white canopy – which once we killed all trapped mossies, worked great. An amazing sunset lit up the sky, we dined on tortellini with olive oil, salt and pepper, at a piece of chocolate and dozed off.

We swung on the anchor during the night, and Bob got up to remove the rode from the painter bolt or pad eye at the bow, where it had become hooked. He uses our whisker pole for this, as we don't have a boat hook. He laid the whisker pole on the deck as he attempted to extract himself from the entanglement that was the awning and all our gear that sits in the cockpit at night while we sleep in the cabin. Well, as he did this, he stumbled on some misplaced water bottles, and slip,bloop, the whisker pole took a dive into the murky black waters. He hollered for me to grab the flashlight, and as I fumbled for it, the pole bobbed up, clicked against the hull, went under, came up, and whoosh, away it went, carried by the current. That sucks, add another item to the shopping list...

Day 7 – Jan. 21, 2010 – Out of Oyster Bay – 6 nm/ 56 for trip

Rise 0700, sailing and rowing mix by 0800, snaking out of bay, around various islands – took scenic route to marked channel out of Oyster Bay (creating a loop combined with yesterday's trip). Out of Snake River by 0930, 2 headsail changes, reefed main, removed headsail, unreefed main by 1030. 1045, decide to head back in to the Little Shark instead of beating ourselves silly on a southerly track to Cape Sable. In safe harbor, anchored by 1230. With heavy gusts coming SE, it was a fine sail on a beam reach, but a rigid jarring ride on a close haul. Cosmossailed best with full main and no headsail in these conditions, but we would have like to have a second reef in the main. Back at the Little Shark, we baked away the afternoon in the sun, had a discussion about the roles of captain and crew, and looked over our future route until the tide change at dusk. The sounds of nature are vibrant tonight: dolphins surfacing, large birds of the Mangrove changing guard at the nest, the mangrove full with squacks, clacks, grats, and honks, a few fish jump. Bob played with the non-functioning radios – he claims to have broke the secret code to channel changing, it's close to something we used to do with the Nintendo controller as kids to get the secret immunity while playing Mario Bros: AABB up,up,down,down,left,right,left,right, select...or something like that. The good news is that we can take radios off our shopping list.

 

 
Lazy Afternoon in Oyster Bay - Everglades National Park 
 
Day 8 – Friday Jan. 22, 2010 – South toward Cape Sable – 7 nm/ 63 for trip

0630 rise at civil twilight, 0745 anchors aweigh just after sunrise, tide ebbing out of river, 0815 at marker one, Little Shark River. Wind 4-5 knots S-SE. Sailed 1 hour 15 min at 245 degrees, 0930 turned to 100 degrees. Foggy, sounding horn every few minutes, visability 50 yds. Fishing the black and red squid lure I named “Jesebel.” Dodging crab/lobster pot buoys, inching our way to Cape Sable. A surreal sail this is, white all around us, can't see a thing, are we on the water or floating in the air? 1730, heading 260 and 130 degrees, doing tacks one hour out, one hour back. Can't see land. We are unsure of our exact location due to the fog. We decide to continue with this into the night. Low winds now, forecast for low winds into the night, no good protected anchorages anywhere, but since the water isn't deeper than 7 feet, we'll just drop the hook wherever. It's now time for the birds to return to their nests, there are flocks of Ibis and Heron flying over. It is damp, cool, and surreal, not sure where the water ends and sky begins as we float through guided by the wind. 2020, dropped the hook. Sailing with total darkness in the waves, glancing back and forth from the compass to the darkness makes me queasy. After 12 hours of sailing, time to sleep, rolling somewhere in the Gulf.

Day 9 - Sat. Jan 23, 2010 – Are we at Cape Sable yet? - 8 nm/ 71 for trip

0820 weigh anchor, 1000 verify position and do some calculations puts us at a very slow pace since yesterday, each tack put us 1nm towards our goal, progress made at half a knot! That's about one quarter or less of the speed it would take to walk to Cape Sable, I guess you could say we were literally crawling towards our goal. By mid afternoon, we finally made it the Middle Cape, and anchored on the north side. Lots of swells, a bumpy ride paired with lots of noises from halyards and humming rodes, an anchor change and various other chores made for a restless night – we needed to keep anchor watch anyway. Despite this, we awoke feeling rested. We cooked inside the cabin for the first time, a bit scary but it was possible. Next time will be better.

 

 
Red Mangrove Roots 
Snails on a Mangrove 
 

Day 10 – Sun. Jan. 24, 2010 – Flamingo – 12nm / 83 for trip

Awoke early, actually we never really went to bed. It was an easy pack. We were anxious to get off and around that Cape, after 3 days of attempts and many tacks, would we make it? 0800 weighed anchor, 1000 rounded Cape Sable (yay!). Winds 18-20 knots from S-SE – it's really blowing! Seas 1-3 feet, choppy. Only a couple tacks got us within range of Flamingo Channel. Got close to shore and the water turned from green to brown, but we didn't go aground. Lots of shallow areas and extensive shoaling in this area (Straights of Florida). Shot right into Flamingo harbor, panting like a pair of tired birds that find a rest on a boat after being lost at sea. Off the boat for the first time in 10 days by 1315.

There is no phone coverage for Alltel customers here, sparse facilities and a $32 docking fee – that saw us in and out of Flamingo in less than an hour. Borrowed a cell phone (pay phone didn't work) to make a call – got in touch with no one, threw away trash and we were out to an anchorage. That's when the adventure got a little wilder...

The wind was billowing 25 knots directly into the 25 foot wide channel. We had to short tack out, keeping clear of the mangroves on one side and a 10 foot tall cement wall on the other. An elderly couple had taken a seat on some benches atop the wall to watch the spectacle we were creating. Bob was at the tiller, he would turn to starboard, we would enter the wind, the boat would get slammed over, we'd “high side” it (move our bodies to the outside edge to keep boat from capsizing or filling with water), he'd round up, just enough to make some forward headway, and we'd tack, I'd yank the jib sheet out of the cleat and pull in on the opposite sheet, the wind would fill the jib, “Crack!” the boat would heal as we entered the wind, we'd high side, we'd made an inch towards the channel opening. Our timing was off at first and Bob would have to jibe around, missing the wall by inches, us letting the 4-letter words fly (to the astonishment of the on-lookers, who by now had gathered into quite a crowd), and we would start over. On the 3rd attempt, we had managed to make enough headway, and on the 9th tack or so, we squeaked out of the channel, with a victorious, “Wee-hoo!” We turned around to see a couple dozen people on the pier, cheering and waving their arms in the air. We then tried to tuck behind the nearest island, and promptly ran aground. After wagging the tiller to and fro, letting the sails out, and leaning on the low side, we managed to wiggle across the channel and get away from that mess. Luckily the crowd had dissipated by this time.

Sore, aching, hot, and tired, we dropped anchor behind Bradly Key in maybe 2.5 feet of water on a changing tide, wind blasting, but chop smoothed by the island - it was a great day of sailing.
 

 
A Typical Lunch Underway

Day 11 - Monday Jan. 25, 2010 – Bradley Key Near Flamingo – 0nm / 83 for trip

Last night we were aground for a few hours around low tide. We slept well; now I get it: a little grounding in soft mud overnight can be a very welcome thing, safe and sound sleeping. It puts the brakes on worrying about anchors etc for awhile. Wind blowing SW at least 15-25 knots though our pocket anemometer read 8 mph– either we were getting protection from the island or the device isn't accurate. Forecast for high winds from SW and thunderstorms most of the day, winds clocking W-NW in the afternoon, so we will stay here for the day. Bob hung the solar shower and I did some laundry and we waited to see what the weather would bring .No sense in beating into high winds through narrow channels with change forecast for tomorrow (we are learning the significance of waiting for a weather window after beating around Cape Sable for 3 days.)

Around noon, we started hearing thunder. As the storm approached, we decided to weigh anchor and move to the other side of the key – we were now on a lee-shore only a few yards from the Mangrove shores, and the wind was making the water choppy. Rowing didn't work against wind and tidal current, so we hoisted the jib and tacked up and around to the other side, where the water was smooth. Behind us, the sky grew darker. It started to rain as I was just setting the anchor. Then came the torrent. Bob was putting up the awning. We got it set in the high winds, stripped off our clothes and ran to the bow for a nice refreshing rain shower. A few notes about rain showers: be naked and ready with soap in hand when the storm hits (that's when you get the best “waster pressure”), also if you put soap on your forehead, look up to the sky until it has washed off – it is very easy to get soap in your eyes. The cockpit cushions got wet, but the fresh water rinse did them good. After this, I rehung the damp laundry including Bob's only clean shirt and my carhart pants – now sopping wet from the storm. We'll spend the rest of the day relaxing, reading, writing, and doing a few chores. The forecast is right for a move towards the Florida Keys tomorrow.

 

 

 
Reddish Egret Pecking About the Mudflats 
Pancakes Al Fresco 
 
Day 12 – Tues. Jan 26, 2010 – To the Keys – 24 nm / 107 for trip

We had 2 plans: 1) get up early and get out before 0745 at low tide or 2) hang out until high tide at 1259. We also were not sure whether we'd go back to Cape Sable and south or wind our way through the shallows. After examining the chart, we discovered both routes were the same length and the shallows way was too risky, so we will go out to Cape Sable and down, following markers and the new Everglades National Park signs.

0500 up to pee and check depth, hard aground, 2 hours 45 minutes before low tide! We didn't expect to hit until 0700 at least. After researching I learned that generally the tide is most active in the middle of its cycle. This means most of the water will drain out or come up (depending on the tide) a couple hours after official low or high tide, and slowly peter out before next official low or high tide. This also means that the tidal currents are strongest during this middle period. 0619 sunrise reveals us sitting in the middle of a mud flat. So we do some chores, whip rope ends, erect solar panel. I cook a hearty pancake breakfast, we packed up, waited to start floating, and watched nature. A Reddish Egret, who we mistook as a Flamingo at first (Flamingos actually live a little further south in the the West Indies, rarely making it up to Florida), came around about breakfast time. His body was grey, his neck a dull rose, his beak pink with a black tip. He had a funky grace about him. He delicately picked his way through the mud, his claws sinking in, his neck would stretch up and out a bit, sending a little dance through his body which allowed him to lift his leg out of the sucking mud. When he alighted, he had a delicate goofiness about him, yet was not clumsy looking like the Heron. There we sat on Cosmos in the mud as this Egret playfully grazed about. Bob noticed a spider-like waterbug scooting around the water, and a dozen or so smaller bugs the size of pinheads following it about (babies perhaps. There was also a jellyfish looking plant ( I later find out was a type of sponge), round and bulbous on the bottom, looking like a cucumber. We could see the pneumatophores (roots of the Mangrove) sticking about 10 inches from the mud closer to shore, allowing the passage of oxygen downward for the rest of the tree. 1057 boat has lifted and we have a little motion. Bob pulled in the anchor rode 7 feet. We hope it won't be long now. Wind has kicked up and is coming in at 335° North. The NPS concessionaire tour boat is out in the channel, 1/3 mile away and we're beginning to float. Let's go Sailing!

1130 We're off. 1203 Marker 6, puts us 2 nm, making 4 knots with jib and main! 1245 Marker 5, got a great pic of a flock of cormorants at rest. Made 3nm in 45 min. 1524 marker 6, 11nm in 2 hours, 45 min, 4 knots. Making good speed today, we might make the keys. For now we hop from marker to marker, nothing but water in sight. 1815 anchored off Duck Key, which is packed with large wading birds and smells a bit like a zoo. Almost too dark to see, and pinch me, have we made it?

 

 

 
Goodbye Everglades Mangroves, Hello Keys Palm Trees 
Sunrise Near Flamingo Reveils Cosmos in the Middle of Extensive Mud Flats
 
Day 13 – Jan. 27, 2010 – To Marathon – 12 nm / 119 for trip

It was a rolling night. Small islands offer little protection. We were off early, with just the jib up, sailing downwind in 15 knots of wind coming N-NE. It is about 12 nm to Marathon. Put up main before going under bridge. We had to tack into the harbor – the wind died midway and Bob started rowing. One oarlock soon broke and we quickly re-hoisted the sails and continued in, past marinas, derelict boats afloat, through a bridge, and in to the busiest harbor we'd ever seen. There are hundreds of boats in Boot Key Harbor– mostly sail with a few trawlers filled with liveaboards. We sailed in dumb-founded at the site, and found a place to anchor – not too close to the crowded mooring field. A few hours later we were ready to go to town. With no dinghy, how would we do this? There was rumor of a water taxi, attempts to hail it failed. So we turned to channel 68 – the ship to ship channel – and a “local” cruiser informed us that the “water taxi” went out of business, and he fetched us up and took us through the maze of moored boats to the hustle and bustle of City Marina- the “town” center. Jon on the Mary Lee gave us advice and offered to chauffeur us about; this was a very warm welcome. We checked out the restrooms and laundry, it wasn't too long before we ran into someone we knew: Mary Lee and Jon from Morning Star, some friends from Oriental pot-lucks (favorites of Bob, they always brought the pie). After making plans to get together, we headed down Hwy 1 to dinner and groceries. We actually skipped down Hwy 1, filled with joy to be in the Keys with so many wonderful people. The Publix grocery in Marathon was awesome: well-stocked for cruising boats and cheap! It cost $85 for a week's food - what normally would cost $100 or more. It was past 2100 hours when we returned to the City Marina to try to hitch a ride back toCosmos. While waiting, we met Brent, a Marathon transplant who called us “rock stars,” for sailing a Com-ac 16 to Marathon. I asked him about a neighborhood with character, he said, “No, not here, you gotta go to Key West for that, this is Marathon, like a trailer-park on the water.” It wasn't another 5 minutes before DJ on the rock boat Serendipity or was it Serenade, gave us a ride. DJ purchased this boat from his parents after he grew up on it! He said, “ Oh, you guys are the ones that came in under sail.” This wasn't the first time we were recognized as such. I guess its like any small community here – after awhile you get to know everyone and everything that goes on.

Back in Cosmos cockpit, the harbor was calm and quiet, hundreds of anchor lights lit up the anchorage, reflecting sparks of light onto the glass-smooth water. Fireworks exploded next to us on Boot Key. We unpacked the groceries and settled in for a deep restful night's sleep.

 

 
Sunset at Boot Key Harbor 
Cosmos with Awning up at Boot Key Harbor 
 
Day 14 – Jan. 28,. 1010 -Boot Key Harbor – 0nm/119 for trip

0700 a quiet morning in the anchorage, cloudy and cool. 0900 we tuned into the Cruiser's Net radio program on the VHF channel 68, we loved to listen to get the news, but didn't call in to the new boats section. This morning 2 different dinghies came by, saying how they saw us at the Shark River. It was interesting how this community of transients seems to have more going on and a greater sense of community and more neighborly than many land-based places – what a cool thing! Certainly a culture that is somewhat overlooked in mainstream America.

There is lots to do today. Morning Star Jon gave us a ride in for daily chores: showers, laundry, West Marine and tackle shopping. Jon and Mary also lent us their bikes, many thanks to them, it made our chores doable in one day. We will meet them for dinner tonight, and this time, we will bring the pie, Key Lime pie of course.

Day 15 – Jan. 29, 2010 – Boot Key Harbor – 0 nm / 119 for trip

Stayed in Marathon one more day, to rest and enjoy the place after yesterdays hectic schedule. Joined in the Cruiser's Net, now we are officially known. We asked if anyone had a small boat whisker pole, I could feel the collective chuckle, there were not too many small boats in the harbor, but anything is worth a try. We tinkered around with the boat and got the BBQ out for hamburgers, mmm. Got silly after dinner – Bob got out the guitar and we had a sing-along. Like a 2 person pot-luck.

Day 16 – Jan. 30, 2010 – Bahia Honda State Park – 12nm /131 for trip

Sunny, warm, good wind from S-SW. Great day for a sail. Hoisted sails, weighed anchor, sailed by Morning Star to bid ado, and out the channel we went. Got many thumbs up and “Bravos” from the workers at the various marinas and gas stations along the way - I guess no one comes in under sail any more.

Out in the Straits of Florida, the south wind was kicking up, waves fetching to 5 feet when there was a break in the islands with no reef or land to break swells. Cosmos handled the waves like a rock star, even when one would come by that was taller than her freeboard. I took a video. It was only a couple hours over to Bahia Honda and a protected anchorage in front of a State Park. We managed 4 knots along the 12 nm journey, on a reach. The motion affected me as we neared Bahia Honda, but that was only the second time in the journey. When we first got into sailing and went out for our weekly forays in the Neuse River back in Oriental, I used to get queasy about every time. Seasickness can be overcome as a person gets more comfortable on the water, and learns how to keep the queasiness at bay with crackers, ginger, fresh air, manning the tiller/helm. I think the difference for me now is that I ride the waves instead of trying to fight them.

The anchorage was between the old bridge, part of the Overseas railroad finished in 1912, and the new bridge, Hwy 1, in front of a public beach. So there was lots of traffic noise and people until sundown. We swam into shore, ¼ mile, the water was uncharacteristically murky, so no snorkeling here. Took a walk around the point to the Atlantic side where all sorts of sea plants had washed onto shore (from the southerly winds), as well as some dried fish carcasses – puffers and others nestled in the Dr. Seuss looking seaweeds and grasses. Behind the beach we saw different types of palm trees and other native plants. While we explored the area, I was startled by a rustling in the bushes. I looked down to see an Iguana! Bob thought it must be someone's lost pet, but we heard others talking about the wild Iguanas. Just seeing a wild Iguana, made the swim to shore well worth the effort. We sat for a spell, thinking about palm trees, sea weeds, and large lizards while gazing at Cosmos bouncing at her anchor – it might be a rough night. We swam back to the boat and flopped all wet into the cockpit as the sun went down. And now the down-side – everything is wet and it' s humid after sundown. It was a damp night. And it was a rocking, rolling, and heaving night – the queasiness was felt by all.

 

 
Old Bridge at Bahia Honda State Park, New Hwy One Bridge in background 
 
Day 17 – Jan 31, 2010 - Coupon Bight at Newfound Harbor – 14nm /145 for trip

Awoke, slithered out of bed, threw together a breakfast, and got out of Bahia Honda. As soon as the sails took control, the queasiness calmed. A cold front moved in and the clouds are low and heavy. Wind N-NE 10-15 knots. It took from 0930 to 1315 to make our next anchorage, on a reach, sailing with jib and main. Decided to go into Coupon Bight, only a few miles from Bahia Honda as the crow flies (or would it be Ibis?) This is a well protected area with shallow waters and a narrow inlet. It took 2 tries to find the entrance, but we flew in fairly easily just as a guy in a skiff was towing out a derelict Com-Pac 16 out of the harbor – weird! There was only one other boat anchored here, maybe a Catalina 20. We set anchor near it, next to the north shore in 5 feet of clear water. When the sun poked through the thick stratocumulus to nimbostratus clouds, the place glistened like an island paradise. Which reminds me that we saw a Bald Eagle this morning fishing with the pelicans. We spent the afternoon with a long lunch then went into the cabin to get out of the wind, get caught up writing, reading ,and route planning. I'm reading Robert Lewis Stevenson's Treasure Island and Bob is reading Kipling's Captains Courageous. A Great White Heron pokes his way in the sandy bottom along the Mangrove shore where the Key's indigenous Pigmy Deer live, here on Big Pine Key.

Day 18 – Feb 1, 2010 – Coupon Bight – 0nm/145 for trip

Rain Day. It started about 0300 this morning and didn't really stop until dusk. Collected water off the awning. Read, played scrabble. Good day.

 

 

 
Bob Fishes with Hand Line off the Back of the Boat 
Our First Successful Day of Fishing 
 
Day 19 – Feb. 2, 2010 – Pelican Key – 14nm /164 for trip

Saw dolphins this morning while leaving the Bight, but no sign of those little pigmy deer. Bob saw a spotted Eagle Ray up close, 9 feet across, by the time Bob pointed him out, he had took off so I got a fleeting view, he can really fly through that water! We wanted to go out to the reef today, but the weather wasn't right. So Bob threw out the Clark's spoon and planer that Jon gave us, and within minutes we had our first fish on! It must have been a spectacle to see us fumbling for a fish bucket and ID charts and regs, trying to keep ahold of our excitement. That day, we managed to catch a Mackaral, Pomapano, and Lane Snapper. It made for a nice feast when gutted, wrapped in foil with a little butter and grilled. We also saw a Loggerhead Turtle poke his head up for a breathe, then clumsily flip his flippers around and dive back down into the water. The small purplish Man-O-Wars are out here too. Bob managed to bring in a tentacle with his fishing line. We didn't know what the long blue thread was at first, until it started to sting Bob's hand. But he was OK after extracting it with his fishing glove and soaking his hand in vinegar.

We switched up our roles today for practice, I was on tiller, Bob weighed and deployed the anchor, we also had two man overboard drills. Our navigation was coastal, watching out for shoals dotted with shipwrecks. We nestled behind Pelican Key near Sugarloaf Key as the sun was setting. Key West airport is just to the west – a few airplanes landing created lots of noise, but it was interesting to watch them, we felt a bit like Wayne and Garth in Wayne's World when they go out to the airport and watch the planes land. Lots of stars out tonight as we relax after a fish dinner with a square of “Twilight Delight” chocolate for dessert. Phosphorescent beings glow in the water below and the waves from the Straits and Atlantic gently rock the boat. Clothes hanging on the line are getting their daily dampening, with the weather and salty water, nothing dries. Cotton seems to absorb the moisture from the air – even when dry. So I hang the damp things to let them air and try to ward off the funk, though some things are beginning to smell.

Along these lines, I'll mention how well the cockpit cushions that I made are holding up. I am so glad we used closed-cell foam with a phiphertex (nylon mesh material) bottom. This allows water to pass right through them, speeding up the drying process and reducing the tendency of the Sunbrella to mildew. The Sunbrella washes well with a brush and even though all I have is salt water, they take it well. They do absorb moisture, take a long time to dry, and are susceptible to stains, for those reasons I think I will use Naugahyde with the phiphertex bottom for the Tartan cushions. The Sunbrella is nice for weekenders, but I don't think it can withstand the rigors of live-aboards, especially Bob and I.

Day 20 – Feb 3, 2010 – Pelican Key – 1 nm/ 165 for trip

0645 Wake up, cloudy, wind 10 knots from N-NE. Mixed altocirrus/nimbostratus clouds mean a warm front is leaving and a cold front is moving in, this storm brought massive snow storms throughout the country and floods to Miami. All we get is a little precip and some clouds. 0745 I decide to cut my hair using the scissors from my Leatherman all-purpose tool. The length is getting annoying. I have no mirror and no idea what it looks like, but 5 inches shorter sure is much less hassle. We are waiting on the weather. We'd like to go explore the reef, some 7 nm south, but the weather is not in our favor. 1400 after a few phone calls, we are thoroughly annoyed by the people and places of our regular life, and decide to weigh anchor and move to a spot with more protection, about 1 nm away. Found a spot off a channel next to a Mangrove island. The sun peeked out for a bit – it felt good. 70's and bare foot – weather is overall very comfortable. Noticed the clear blue water, and you can see the bottom! Beds of Turtle grass and various sponges on white sand. Another amazing sunset projects light pink and orange rays into powder blue skies and aquamarine waters. Flocks of Grey Pelican and Seagull search for dinner, the water is smooth as glass except for the tidal current that is gently licking our hull.

 

 
 
Key West Harbor Walk Complete with Schooners
 
 

Day 21 – Feb 4, 2020 – Key West – 12nm /177 for trip

Moved to Key West, big waves, sailing downwind most of the day. Wish we had our whisker pole, we had to plot a course a bit off to keep the headsail from flogging.. Bob caught a gorgeous 3-4 foot Spanish Mackerel. It would barely fit in our bucket, we hand to wrap it around and quickly put on the lid. It was quick getting to Key West, but took awhile to make our way up the channel to Key West Harbor, which isn't really a harbor but a shore with a few islands scattered about. There are boats of all shapes, sizes, and conditions scattered all over the place. We picked a place close to the dinghy traffic and set our anchors off the bow with 75 foot of scope in 3 fathoms of water. It was a rolling place, but everywhere looked that way. We would have decent protection from SW-W winds. At sunset, we listened to Conch Horns billowing from Mallory Square's sunset celebration as 3 schooners cruised up and down the channel between the different anchorages.

Day 22 – Feb 5, 2010 - Key West – 0nm / 177 for trip

Got a ride into the harbor from Jon on Reef Chief, one of the large schooners anchored in the harbor. His dinghy, a 14 foot Carolina Skiff, is a popular choice amongst live-aboards here in Key West. It is a big harbor, and some of these folks have a long often rough commute to land. The harbor has no really good protected areas, so we may move as the wind shifts, or maybe not. It was a bouncy night off marker 31 – current and opposing wind. Larry, this pirate looking dude with a long goatee, black cap, lots of bracelets, and painted toe nails, who works at West Marine called the opposing current/wind situation the “Willeewahs and there's nothing you can do about it.” He owns 3 boats anchored around marker 31.

We paid $4 for 2 showers at the Key West Bight Marina, then set out for supplies: new boom vang, hank for headssail tack, and a whisker pole. Across from the showers, was Los Cubanitos hardwear store – full of all kinds of reasonably priced boat stuff and people speaking the Cuban dialect of Spanish. Just catercorner from that was West Marine. Before noon we had everything marked off our shopping list, except the whisker pole which we ordered from West and will receive in a week. So that decides our schedule for the next week, stay in Key West until the part comes in. I'm happy to spend a few days in Key West, these gardens are too good for just one day's exploration. We found “Faustos” grocery on Fleming in Old Town, and set off to do some exploration.

We walked about Old Town, enjoying the Conch architecture, exotic tropical gardens, the smells of garlic and something good coming from the many restaurants, and oh yeah, the people watching was good too. We learned about harvesting coconuts- by a man carving coconuts into pirate heads. He says all species are edible, some better than others and he told us to pick them before they get brown. It's easy to get them out of a tree with a rock, and with luck they'll break before they hit the ground. He gave me a coconut and told me we could get more ripe for the picking behind the cemetery. We rummaged a couple antique stores, Key West is a great place to find an Art Deco/Art Nouveau lamp – though we couldn't fit one on the boat. We grumbled a bit about the tourist town mono-culture, provisioned and walked back to the dinghy dock to hitch a ride. The sun was hot and the tourist and locals I presume had started drinking by the time Al from a catamaran gave us a ride back to Cosmos. A man came by on a dinghy, took a look at us, and said, “Now that's a proper yacht!

We got the update on the incoming storm and prompted by a fellow sailor who told us to tuck in close r to shore, decided to weigh anchor and seek shelter from the forecast 30 knot winds. We decided upon a spot across the harbor channel, in front of Wisteria Island or Christmas Tree as the locals call it. We received a warm welcome from the neighboring boats, especially from Jonathan on Puffin. Jonathon advised us on the different holding in the area and even offered to row out an anchor for us. We listened to his advice on the location, there was lots of grass and it was hard to get the anchor to set, but we turned down his offer to help us with the anchors – when it comes down to it, each sailor must be responsible for checking the set on his own anchors and bare the sometimes dire consequences if they don't set. After 5 or so tries we finally got it just right, it was difficult to judge position and anchor amongst so many boats. My arms and back were very tired as we flopped into the cockpit. And just in time, as it started to rain and the dark clouds came rushing in, blackening out the remainder of civil twilight. We jumped in our our foulies, I grabbed a dark chocolate Toblerone, and kept anchor watch, enjoying good conversation and the beautiful storm. It reminded us all those times we had watched storms roll though Grand Canyon.

 
Oh Yeah, Key West is Still Funky 
  Day 23 – Feb 6, 2010 – Key West – 0nm / 177 for trip

 The storm blew over after the first rain hit, we slept with the hatch open. The anchorage is much better over near Christmas Tree. Got ready to go to town today, but no ride came. We sat in the hot sun for a couple hours, then tinkered with the boat. Bob wrapped rope on the cahinplates to keep the jib sheets from catching on the toggles. He also started to instal the boom vang. Our neighbor Paul, whose boat hails from Oriental came by to say hello. Later, we had pasta and Bib lettuce with olive oil and salt, wheat bread and licorice for dinner.

 Day 24 – Feb 7, 2010 – Key West – 0nm / 177 for trip

 A fresh breeze kept the awning flapping all night. But we managed to sleep, Bob awoke in the middle of the night and read, probably more due to the early bedtime than the tarp flapping. The waves keep the boat rocking, but it was a gentle rocking. Last night we called Perry and Susan in Oriental, they reported cold wet weather, and we were reminded why we decided to come to the Florida. This morning its in the upper 60s and cloudy. I'm comfy in the cockpit in silk long underwear and a sweater. There are 2 ginormous cruise ships in the harbor today tied to the wharf. We finally got a ride into town, by a Norwegian kid named Sven or Djorgen or Spitsbergen or something like that. He is super nice and actually gave us a ride home as well. He mumbled something about falling off his dinghy, though I'm not sure how this happens... It was a good day of laundry and postcard writing.

 Day 25 – Feb 8, 2010 – Key West – 0nm / 177 for trip

 I practice weather forecasting, learning to read the clouds.

 Day 26 – Feb 9, 2010 – Key West – 0nm / 177 for trip

 Bob finished his boom-vang installation, luckily Paul from next door lent us his drill. Our other option was to carry the boom to town and borrow one from a construction site. We went for a day sail to the back of Christmas Tree, enjoying the aquamarine waters, para sailors, and fishing. Bob caught a couple Leatherjackets, which he threw back, but not before one's razor-sharp dorsal fin stuck his hand, leaving it with a burning sensation. He later dug a piece of the spine out of his finger, and it healed up nicely.

 There is loud party music coming from the island tonight as we feast on fish and pasta in a butter herb sauce. Breezy and cool yet comfortable this evening. The boat is gently tugging at her 2 anchors set at the bow with a 7 to 1 scope chain and rope rode. South wind forecast to turn north, another low coming in. The rest of the country is experiencing snow and yucky winter weather with these storms, we get slightly cooler temps and great sailing weather.

 Day 27 – Feb 10, 2010 – Key West – 0nm / 177 for trip

 Retrieved whisker pole from West Marine, and walked around Key West, marveling at the tropical plants, and being annoyed by the touristy people and places. We had to laugh when we walked past the “southernmost point” on Hwy 1, and the line of at least 20 people waiting to get their picture taken in front of the ugly cement marker. We were unable to find a large stretch of white sandy beach to hang out on, only a track of beach 50 yards or so long nestled between hotels and restaurants. But we merely took note of this tragedy, taking no real offense as thoughts of our boat dancing at anchor near our secluded beach filled our minds. We had our best lunch yet on a picnic table in front of the court house, built 1890, under a rare flowering Kapok tree. It was a lunch of locally made Cuban bread with roast turkey and pepper jack cheese from Fausto's grocery. We watched as tourists took pics of Key West's brightly colored wild chickens. I noticed that there aren't as many “characters” around as I thought – though we haven't experienced Key West after dark. But we have ran into some zany creatures: We've seen quite a few “pirate” types: long facial hair, jewelery , do-rages, salt encrusted clothes, pants rolled up,(wait that describes Bob and I!), also saw facial tattoos, an artist guy in a top hat and self-painted converse with a checkerboard belt, no flamboyant types of guys in drag (though we did see a drag queen in Marathon). The city is also filled with folks from cruise ships that come and go, these people are generally walking fast, camera in hand, and at times awkward-looking in their fancy cruise attire. (Awkward because it didn't seem to be their normal attire, one guy must have been a farmer from the midwest, who would have been more at home in a flannel and overalls, but was playing the part, his wife must have dressed him up for the occasion.) Bob brought up a good point that the “characters” aka artists probably got pushed out in the boom economy of the late 90s and the yuppies replaced them, turning the houses into B&Bs. The only ones left are the one's who had no money to begin with, like the old guy with the 2 thumbed hand who bikes around in a survival suit, and the various “bums” that live on derelict boats in the harbor and skillfully row to shore standing up (to keep dry from large waves) on kyacks, surf boards, and what have you. And like many tourist towns, the industry capitalizes on “characters” that can no longer afford to live there and the “uniqueness” is pre-packaged and mass produced. Key West has a New Orleans Bourbon Street section on Duval and I think the same people own the knick-knack $5 sovereign shops as those in New Orleans. But the gardens and history are spectacular if you can get past the tourist-town facade. And thinking back on Key West now, I'm filled only with pleasant memories.

 
Sailing in the Aquamarine - Boca Chica Channel near Marquesas Keys 
 Day 28 – Feb 11, 2010 – Marquesas Keys – 15 nm / 193 for trip

Anchor weighed at 0730 – destination the Marquesas Keys, the uninhabited islands west of Key West. We sailed along at 3.5 knots, the water finally taking on the aquamarine color. Passed a spot on the chart marked “HQ.” Curiosity got the better of us and we altered course to check it out. The theme from Mission Impossible ringing in our ears, we felt like we were in a James Bond movie, I was prepared to strap on some scuba gear and go over to get into the secret entrance. But we found that it was just a house located on the most beautiful key we'd seen thus far, palm trees dotting the white sandy beaches. With a lagoon behind them, dotted with hidden beaches longing to be explored. From nearby Boca Grande Key, it was 5 nm across open water to the Marquesas. We took a bearing and headed west, and we weren't out of site of land before the trees of the Marquesas dotted the horizon. We ferried across the magnificent aquamarine waters of Boca Grande Channel to the inlet of the green turtle grass and muddy bottoms of the inner Marquesas.

1145 We enter, it's like a maze in here, nothing deeper than 4 feet at low tide. We tried to weave our way back to a well-protected harbor on the NW corner, but the path didn't go at low tide or we couldn't find it. Anyway, we grounded trying to exit the ring on the west side. We decided to lunch on PBJs, Ginger-O cookies and celery and wait for the tide to rise. After a few inches of water beneath our ballast, Bob slung the Bruce anchor out about 30 feet and tried to kedge her out. This worked at moving her a few inches with each toss – very tiring work. We finally started making progress and would get the bow pointed towards our escape, but the wind was right on our nose and by the time our sails could gather enough momentum to tack, we'd sailed her back aground. But we don't give up easily and after many tosses, we figured out a way to get her out: Bob would toss the anchor and pull up on it, then pass the rode to me and I'd slowly maneuver the bow around, jib sheets flogging my head and Bob would start to sail her, I'd duck for the tack, the jib passing over me, and then we'd lean over to one side, decreasing her draft and I'd carefully make my way back to the cockpit with the Bruce and rode while Bob short-tacked her back to the deeper waters. We picked an exit and left the inner ring. A fishing boat was anchored out front, hours later and now exhausted we looked for a place with some shelter to N/Ne to drop the hook as sunset was nearing. We finally decided on a spot in front of a nice secluded beach as the sun turned the sky hot pink and sank below the horizon.

Day 29 – Feb 12, 2010 – Marquesas Keys – 5nm / 182 for trip

Forecast called for a deep low moving across the Gulf for tonight, high wind potential with sustained gusts of 40+. So it was up and around to move to a secluded harbor while the tide was high. We managed to find an entrance to the inner ring and weave our way back, using scum lines and water color as our guide to the deeper waters. Mainly sailed up close to the mangroves where water is deeper. 1030 found a beauty of a spot, protection all around. It turned out to be a bright and shiny day. We did some washing up and relaxed and watched the mangrove birds, starfish, and one very large fish, maybe a 5 foot long Tarpon. Lunched on salami, white cheddar, pink lady apple, carrot sticks, pinot noir and dark chocolate Toblerone – fancy! Went for a snorkel, exploring the mangrove roots and read. Bob opened the coconut we got in Key West. The water was the most delicious thing I've tasted in awhile. The wind picked up at 1600 and the altostratus clouds moved in – bringing only a slight breeze to the harbor, but we could hear it whipping outside. This is the right place to be for this storm – better than Key West for sure. (We later find out about the chaos of boats dragging from the storm back at Christmas Tree.) Here is a quote from Captains Courageous that describes a boat at anchor in a storm (page 52-53)

The little schooner was gamboling all around her anchor (…) Backing with a start of affected surprise at the sight of the strained cable, she pounced it like a kitten, while the spray of her descent burst through (…) shaking her head she would say,”Well, I'm sorry I can't stay any longer with you. I'm going north.” and would saddle off. (…) She would begin (again) as gravely as a drunken man addressing a light post. (…) She behaved like a puppy chewing a string, a clumsy woman in a side-saddle, a hen with her head cut off, and cow stung by a hornet.”

 

 
The Allusive Crab Pot Buoy - Photographing these Became our Hobby (This One Has Dreads!)
 
Day 30 – Feb 13, 2010 – Marquesas Keys – 0nm / 182 for trip

The low came through last night, introducing itself with 2 storms and high winds. The fist came after sunset with 45 min of rain. The next around midnight with a brief shower and winds gusting to 30 knots in our cove. The pre-dawn low tide caused the boat to ground and tilt. The muddy bottom here being not quite as soft as that in the Everglades, so I slid off my bunk onto Bob. The north wind stayed up at 20 knots all day. We stayed warm in the cabin reading Mark Twain's short stories aloud, playing Yahtzee.

Day 31 – Feb 14, 2010 – Sand Key Light – 12nm / 194 for trip

A bird landed on our cabin in the middle of the night, scaring bob half to death as he peaked out to see what the racket was all about. He poked his head out as the Pelican burst into flight, leaving his mark all over the cabin top. We were tilted again this morning, the cove mostly drained of water, the birds foraging about. Today's forecast is for lighter winds, calming by this evening. We will move back towards Key West. Now at the turning point of our great journey.

We decide to try for Sand Key Light to explore the reef. It was a great sail, we made it to the mooring balls of the reef just as the sun set.
 

 
Snorkeling the Mangrove at Marquesas Keys 
 
Day 32 – Feb.15,2010 – Exploring the Reef – 7nm/201 for trip

Despite the calm winds, the boat rocked all night in the swell, but it was well worth it...I awoke early to watch the phosphorescent creatures lighting up the waters, there are a lot of them here over the reef. The sun came up behind the light, whose beacon shown out into Hawk's Channel and towards Key West. It was a cool morning, so I marked our anchor rode with yarn to wait for the sun to warm up the day.

This was my first chance at marking the rode since our trip began, due to its daily use. It was troublesome to guess the distance I'd paid out each night while anchoring, and the confusion led to fights between captain and crew. So, this was an easy fix to that problem, and quite salty if I do say so myself. I wrapped the yarn like I would whip the end of the rope, marking it in 10 foot increments, using one band to represent 10 feet. When I got to 50 feet, I used a wide band, plus the smaller bands up to 100 feet when I used 2 wide bands and the smaller bands. I guess in days of yore, anchor rodes were marked with all types of things, making up a sophisticated and complex code so sailors could tell by feel how much rode was out at night. But since we have trusty headlamps these days, the bands of yarn will do just fine, and I don't have to attempt at remembering the code. Most importantly, the rode markers will make anchoring more accurate thus safer and that is good seamanship.

By the time I got to 120 feet on our stern anchor, I was getting real antsy to explore that reef. Only one other time in my life had I snorkeled a reef, and I was ready to experience more. We could see the bottom from the boat as the water was quite clear. We didn't realize until we got in that the bottom was some 15-20 feet down; much further than we had thought as this was probably the clearest the water had been. By the time Bob had slithered into the water, I had seen many different schools of fish, eels, and a shark! No worries, the small shark was down near the bottom minding his own business. We made our way the 50 yards or so towards the reef, swimming over crevasses, boulders, and cliffs; the topography was much like the side of a mountain or canyon. It was strewn with these large fan-like seaweed plants that waived to and fro in the current, and the fish were everywhere: more marine life than I knew existed in all shapes and sizes, from the tiniest fish hiding behind small bits of coral to large grouper hanging out under shelves; from numerous brightly colored reef fish, to eels that watched us with their spooky blue eyes. We could hear the snap and crackles of shrimp as we floated above it all in absolute awe. And it was the various coral and sponges that created the habitat for this thriving sea community. Before long, we began to lose the feeling in our extremities due to the cold water, so we reluctantly returned to the boat. Fantastic! I realized then and there that this barrier reef, which runs almost the total length of the Keys was the reason it was all here, the reason the people are here, the reason the land was here, it is all about the water and that magnificent reef.

Warm, dry and energized, we set sail for Key West, some 7 nm north. The waters remained clear and we stared at the bottom as we floated above it, now with a better understanding of what goes on down there. The winds died as we approached the entrance to Key West Harbor, and it was busy with all types of charter boats toting tourists about the waters, waiting for a perfect Key West sunset. We saw all 3 schooners, the Fury, a tourist catamaran with its dummy sail and loud 1980's music was motoring about, the Seabago cats with their red and orange stripes were full with peeps, the boat that Bob and I nicknamed the “Saturday Night Special” was out with it's Christmas lights and odd elliptical egg shape, and Mallory Square was loaded with folks. There was Cosmos, ghosting along with our bright red, orange, and black drifter, trying to stay clear of all this, but enjoying being a part of the activity all the same. It was a surreal moment, the sky pink with sunset, these glorious boats from the days of old, and the flashes going off from cameras at Mallory Square, the rock-n-roll getting pumped out of a very loud speaker, and our little brightly colored boat, right in the middle of it all. Oh, we're in the middle of it all...bobbing around in the confused chop of the harbor, that prohibited us from catching any wisps of wind – this is not an ideal situation. So we “motor-sailed,” with Bob on the oars and me at the helm, we made our way back to the west side of the harbor, near Christmas Tree Island as civil twilight was nearing an end. We were welcomed back by our Norwegian Friend, Djoergen or Sven (sorry man), aboard his small Hunter sailboat. Then we set our anchors and dined on a bland navy bean and rice soup- though the atmosphere, music blaring from shore, and the Saturday Night Special still going about, spiced it up some.
 

 
Sailing into Key West Harbor at Sunset 
 

Day 33 – Feb 16, 2010 – Key West – 0nm/201 for trip

Up and around, we needed shoreside showers and services or is it shorshide showers and shoreshide shervices? Does Sally sell seashells there too? So we got up, ate, and waited for a ride. It was windy, a nice soft rain at dawn brought in cool temps, so we put on our foulies (aka foul weather gear or grundens). We took our awning down to soak up the sun and read. A few hours later, no dinghies came, we lunched on PBJs. Then our Norwegian friend came bouncing over in his small 7 foot dinghy with the 15 hp engine cranked to full throttle. Now I can see how he fell out...he had a grin from ear to ear and his little dink was catching some major air as he bounced and skittered from wave crest to wave crest. When he pulled up along side us, I was doubled over in laughter at this spectacle. He graciously took us to shore so we could run our errands.

First, the $4 showers, then the organic store where we found good deals on cheese, meat, cookies, snacks, and produce. Then to West Marine and Los Cubanitos for replacement jib and main sheets – our jib sheets are too big for our new whisker pole to fit in the tack (if it isn't one thing it's another on a boat). But the old ones needed replacement anyway (sour grapes). We then went to our favorite book store on Fleming Street to trade in some paperbacks, $4 richer (enough for a bag of cookies) and a few pounds lighter, we headed to Fausto's Grocery. After finishing our provisioning and picking up some Cuban bread and fixin's from the deli, we headed to our favorite bench by the court house and the flowering Kapok trees to dine with the wild chickens and watch the tourists chase them with cameras. After doing a little food packing, we hauled ourselves back to the dinghy dock to hitch a ride. While there, we met a couple adventurers from Alaska, one who just started his winter cruising career, one just coming for a visit. They ran off to get a refreshment, Key West style, and we approached a local liveaboard for a ride in her Carolina Skiff. This 16 foot fiberglass boat with chipped paint in various colors, leaky bottom, half-reliable engine was standard transport for those living on the hook in Key West. And this is the standard procedure for getting home: pull up the painter to bring the dinghy close to the dock, hop aboard with a nimbleness of a person who has made this routine, pick up the plastic scoop that is used to bail out the water that has found its way in through apparent leaks, fiddle with the engine, give a couple yanks on the starter and off they go. Sometimes the engine doesn't make it, so they have to bob around until a neighbor tows them home in their 2 tone fiberglass skiff with the plastic bailer and clunky engine. And this is the life, rain or shine, smooth water or choppy of the Key West liveaboard. “And it's all worth it,” said one woman I talked with, “I mean, we see dolphins everyday.”And such was the life of the woman who with her daughter, Marney, gave us a ride to Cosmos. The waves made for a splashy ride and she expertly instructed Marney, to switch to the port side and the waves stopped coming aboard. She had been making daily trips ashore in her well-worn dinghy for 10 years.

Back aboard, we unpacked the food and installed our new sheets. The jib sheet was too big – had West Marine mislabeled their line, we purchased what was labeled 3/8 inch but this was clearly bigger, we will try to exchange or buy new line tomorrow. Our friend Tyler came by, he and his girlfriend Brook had given us a couple of rides to shore, even gave us his cell number to call him whenever we needed a ride. It seems like everytime we saw him, he had a dinghy load full of folks. His sailboat, an Islander named Cabal (jail break from the book Papillon) was loaded with 1000 lbs of beans, rice, and flour for those in Haiti who were left suffering after a devastating earthquake hit Port A Prince last month. The food was donated by locals in Key West, and his was one of many boats part of the relief effort. I guess these islanders help each other out, no matter the political affiliations. Tyler told us of the troubles he had during the recent gale; his anchor dragged, again. But now, Tyler was headed to Christmas Tree Island for a Conch roasting with a bottle of rum. We gave him some of our spare anchor swivels as a way of saying thanks for the rides ashore. We wished eachother fair winds with hopes to meet again in a distant anchorage.

Day 34 – Feb 17, 2010 – Leaving Key West - 25 nm/225 for trip

Up and around, Bob tuned up our rigging, we hoisted the jib and made our way to the 2 hour dinghy dock on the historic Key West Harbor Walk. We sailed to the breakwater, then I doused the jib as Bob started to row, I then went aft to steer us into the dock. Cries of encouragement came from the fuel dock next to us as the kids (our age) aboard the steel ketch Conch West hollered out, “You guys rock!” We had been anchored near them, and we think Jonathon aboard Puffin had told them about us. Anyway, our surprised ears took this compliment in grace as we had admired their boat all week. They, like Tyler on Cabal were headed to Haiti with provisions. Then we were at the 2 hour dinghy dock. Our landing at the dock went very well and I tended lines (actually I relaxed in the cockpit, got a few shots of Cosmos at dock, and chatted with a local scooping out her dinghy) while Bob sorted out the sheet mix up at West Marine (they did allow the exchange- nice people). The tourists walking the harbor walk admired our boat, one lady saying to her awkward-fancily dressed husband, “ Don't you just envy them? They're going to have a beautiful day.” We smiled, a bit smug, thinking to ourselves, “Yes, it will be a beautiful day, just as the last 33 have been!” I went to the restrooms before leaving, and as I walked, I reminisced about our time in zany Key West. I will miss the interesting people thriving in unconventional lifestyles based their love of good weather and the water. I will miss the Dr. Seuss-looking tropical trees, coconuts, the smells of butter and garlic wafting through the streets, the sunset ritual and other tourist-attracting gimmicks, and all that is Key West but still just a speck in the sea of the (sometimes) aquamarine water that surrounds it. It is the reef, the awesome reef and its ecosystem that makes it all happen.

Back to the boat tied up to the wooden Harbor Walk, we slipped the lines and Bob rowed us out past the breakwater where we raised sailed, saying, “See ya Key West, we'll be back.” Just then, we saw Tyler, with his usual boat full of folks, get nearly pounced upon by Sven's dinghy, until it stopped short, most likely a waterlogged engine, and we called out to him,” Need a tow? We'll row you in!” to which he replied in his Norwegian accent,”Shuuht Uhp!” And off we went, course set east.

The breeze was light and we ghosted along Key West and Boca Chica Key to one of our “spots” in front of Pelican Key, dropping anchor in 4 feet of water just as the sun was setting and the conch was presumable blowing at Mallory Square. Bob gutted and grilled up a nice Mackerel that I caught (my first salt-water fish!), fishing along the shelf with the Clarkspoon/Planer combination. It took all of about 10 min to catch it. We also had a spinach salad with 4 different types of veggies – what luxury! I manned the tiller while dropping the sail and didn't completely foul it up, but could have done much better, then I got a lesson on how to be a good crew, and how to pay attention and keep my head when plans get altered last minute – a few things I need to work on. We then snuggled into our berths and slept like a couple of rocks.
 

 
Cosmos tied up to the Habor Walk "2-hour Dinghy Dock"  in Key West 
 

Day 35 – Feb 18, 2010 – Headed East – 12nm/237 for trip

Today, I updated the journal as the rising sun added lovely pink highlights to the pale blue sky, speckled with banks of cumulus clouds. A stubborn cormorant perched himself on our masthead this a.m. We had to bang on the mast to get him to budge, but he kept coming back. I guess it was good fishing from up there. Luckily, he left no poop.

1030 weighed anchor. A cool N-Ne wind at 20+ knots started the day, diminishing a bit by mid-afternoon. Went though many sail changes or gears to get the proper drive. We settled on the reefed main and jib in heavy winds, then shook out the reef later on. It would be nice to have the option of a second reef in the main and a reef in the jib. We'll want this for the Tartan 27 that we're refitting. Beating in 3+ ft waves, but it was another perfect day of sailing on the Straits of Florida. The sailing conditions couldn't have been better this winter for us down here.

1530 Anchored in 4 feet of sand and grass of Loggerhead come Louis Key – nicknamed Monkey Key by us for the alleged experiment Rhesus being raised here. We read in a guide book that an entrepreneur, who renamed the Key after his wife, is raising Rhesus on the island, and selling them to pharmaceutical companies for experimentation or are they experimenting with them on the island, two headed monkeys? We'll stay clear of it, don't want to catch something weird – like in a sci-fi movie. (Haven't seen or hear any monkeys yet...) But we did watch an Osprey on the hunt.

Stratus clouds with a few cumulus, 62° F, 68% humidity barometer 1018 mb.

Day 36 – Feb 19, 2010 - Monkey Key to near Bahia Honda – 10 nm / 247 for trip

1330 With genoa up, we beat at around 3 knots in the chilly Feb air past the entrance to Newfound Harbor to just past the coral formations in front of Coupon Bight. We can see the 7-mile bridge. The swells that come from under it rocked the boat all night. In the lower 60s today, make for chilly sailing, but complain we did not, for that's nice weather for the middle of February. We shiver to think about living in the van down by the river back in North Carolina.

1800 Hook down in sand and grass, in front of some houses and a beach. A greenish cast to the water, but we started seeing bottom in about 15 feet of water . Though not as clearly as some of our days down near Key West. The anchor rode markers I sewed have made anchoring so much better – don't leave home without some! We've eaten our cookie ration for this leg of the journey, I guess that means we'll try to head into Marathon tomorrow. Bob says we'll buy a dozen bags of cookies for our Everglades leg to make sure we never run out. My vote is for a good selection of fruit and veg, but I can't argue against having a good supply of cookies to nosh.

 

 

 
The Stubborn Cormorant Perched on our Mast 
A Typical Florida Keys Sunset Aboard Cosmos 
 

Day 37 – Feb 20, 1020 – Bahia Honda – 6 nm / 271 for trip

A light rain fell last night, but blue skies greeted us this morning. Boat is rocking pretty good, we'll pack up and head out. Laundry, showers, and cookies just around the corner (or past the bridge in this case.)

Current and wind against us, we made slow progress. We were flip-flopping about where to go- back around Newfound Harbor to Big Pine Key or stick it out for Marathon...After figuring we'd be in Marathon by 10 pm, we settled on our last anchorage with decent protection, Bahia Honda State Park. With NE-E winds forecast, we hoped it would be a less rolly night than last time we anchored here. The sun was out, the peeps (tourists) were on the beach and going about in boats. We hung out and watched the goings on. Two more boats anchored, making 6 total. One had the all-stripes “Brothers of Liberty” flag that we saw in Key West. The captain paddled by on his way to hunt down a hot shower. He and his wife are cruising their 24 foot Sovereign that they trailered to Tavernier Key. They've taken that boat all over the east coast for the past 15 years. They cruise until April then go back to Boone, NC. A radiant sunset played up the layers of cumulus and cirrus clouds. Bed by 2000 hours.

Day 38 – Feb 21, 2010 – Must Get Cookies! - 15nm / 286 for trip

0700 Anchors aweigh just as the sun peeked up over the horizon. Today, we head east with 10 knot winds from the NE-E and lots of counter-current produced by an eddy of the Gulf Stream and water draining from Florida Bay – not a good forecast. We could squeak out 20° on one tack, lucky to get below 180° on the next. We stayed close to shore, where the swells were cut by shallower water, lessening the drift. It took us 30 minutes to go the distance of 4 telephone poles (about ½ mile), seen along Hwy 1...

0830 Should we keep on, hoping for the forecasted wind shift? Should we turn around to Big Pine Key, they have a grocery too. Would we make Marathon tonight, at this rate, we may make it by 2am? We definitely need groceries. When we awoke, we had enough a PBJ each, 1 stick of pepperoni, 1 can of Black-Eyed peas, one serving rice, one serving pasta, 4 red potatoes, 2 apples, and no cookies – slim pickins, especially if we can't make it to a store by tomorrow. We would keep going until 1200 before making any changes in our heading.

1200 wind shifted east 20-30° and we're getting a great starboard tack, we could make it the length of the 7-mile bridge if the current wasn't pushing us north. 2 long (1 hour to 30 minutes) tacks to reach Money Key, 2 long tacks to reach Molasses Keys and their extensive shoal area, 2-3 tacks to get around them, we thought about anchoring behind them. It is now 1500 hours. The current must be intensified around the islands. There were kyackers camping on one of the islands. One tack to get around Pigeon Key with the ramp onto Hwy 1. One tack to get around the bridge “hump” channel markers. 1800 hours, three tacks to get to the entrance to Boot Key Harbor at Marathon. The tide is going out, it is about mid-tide, and at it's strongest, we couldn't have timed it worse. We decided to try our luck and skills and short tack up the channel to Boot Key Harbor.

Three tacks, make it to the 2nd green channel marker. Each dip of the tiller towards the wind was prohibiting forward progress, we worked together like an Olympic team tacking up the channel. Bob would say, “ready, tack” and we'd jump to the windward side, I'd let the genoa back for a bit, bringing the bow around, then i'd let it flap out just at the right moment and haul in the jib sheet until the wind caught it, then I'd let it out a bit and slowly bring it in to just off the spreader. Bob, I'm sure was doing equally amazing feats back at the tiller, and it was a job well done. 7 short tacks, past all green channel markers. 8 short tacks, whew! finally make it past the“dead wind zone” made by the 12 foot wall of mangrove trees. The shallows on either side made the current really strong here. Lots of boats entering the narrow channel - 3 trawlers, 1 catamaran – the woman aboard said, “Not a good day to sail.” (What does she know, we were sailing just fine), 6 rubber dinghies, 3 hard dinghies, 1 Carolina Skiff with a husband and wife and their dogs, 2 lobster fisherman...15 tacks to get past Marathon Marina, Bodines Marina and Tiki Bar – with many onlookers and encouragements yelled out, 3 tacks past the derelict historic marina with the nice wooden offices. 1810, now we attempt the bridge. 7 tacks, past the bridge, had to make a really short tack inside of it. Sunset. We're in Boot Key Harbor! 1845 The cooking smells from nearby boats make my empty stomach growl. 5 tacks to our old spot near Sister Creek. 1900 anchor down, it's been drizzling rain since we passed the 7-mile bridge “hump.” Twelve hours of sailing today, making about 1 knot good over ground. It was a great experience-gaining day. Having fed ourselves the last ration of pepperoni and pasta, we snuggled in for a calm night's sleep, the boat gently swaying on her anchor, a light rain out, but the companionway was open under the awning. We quickly fell asleep, exhausted after the day, visions of cookies and showers dancing in our heads.
 

 

 
Sunrise Leaving Bahia Honda State Park 
Bob Tracking the Weather 
 

Day 39 – Feb 22, 2010 – Marathon Errands – 0nm / 286 for trip

Rain and lots of it. Tricky getting a ride today, but we need stores! Getting hungry...Joel from a beautiful Erikson 39 gave us a ride to shore. We took warm showers- being fresh and clean feels good. We walked down to Publix in our foulies and flip-fops, treating ourselves to lunch at the Cracked Conch. Bob had his regular Cheeseburger and Fries, I tried the Conchburger. Yum Yum $26. We spent $135 at Publix and got more like two week's provisions, we weren't going to run low again. We left happy with the prices and with 3 bags of cookies. While packing our bag, a lady came by and offered us a ride back to City Marina. Love the cruising community here! We hitched a ride back to the boat as the rain started falling harder, the boat seemed really far out, and we felt really bad for the guy who gave us a ride, he said as the rain dripped off his nose, “No problem, I've got plenty of rum back on the boat to warm me up.” Marathon isn't much to look at shoreside (though the retro trailers are awesome), but the boating culture (and that's what its all about here) is fantastic. Got on the nightime cruisers net at 1900 hours and gabbed into the night about everything from kitchen sinks to fishing and good anchorages with the fine folks who live in the harbor. There was Curmudgeon, an old fart, Sloop de Jour, an ex-guide from the West who pronounced his boat “Shleup d Ju..u..uu” as the night and cocktail hour progressed, Cuckoos Nest, the young guy Jason who is doing a refit while living aboard, something Bob and I can sympathize with, Orion, the harbor sage, Allure,the guy that called his boat name loud and bold, but otherwise came in with a whine, Hey Driver, the ex-trucker and many more wonderful characters that turned our nights in Marathon into some of our best cruising memories.

Day 40 – Feb 23, 2010 – Marathon – 0nm / 286 for trip

A real beauty of a day. The rain stopped last night around sunset, to the sound of 3-4 Conch horns. The water was glass-smooth all night. The reflection of the anchor lights again made a breathtaking scene in the harbor. Bob rowed Cosmos over to near the dinghy dock- we decided this was the responsible thing to do so that people giving us a ride didn't have to go so far out of their way. Though it has been annoying at times to hitch rides to shore (because we don't have the freedom to come and go as we please), this has been a great way to meet cruisers. It surprised me how all but one person out of a dozen knew of Oriental, NC. Not only that, most of them love Oriental, coming though each year as they voyage down the ICW. They mention the resources for boaters, but mostly it's the friendly people that are responsible for Oriental's stellar reputation. What a beautiful thing, and something the town could use to its economic advantage.

After dropping the hook 3 times, we finally found a hole amongst all the boats where our placement was just right: we didn't want to drag into someone when the wind shifts. Then to town for laundry and hopefully our last trip to West Marine. Had to walk in my tie dye dress with 20 pounds of laundry strapped to my back to reach the laundromat, a couple miles from the Marina. Bob went to West Marine. This was our first time apart since we started the trip. I had a wonderful walk, enjoying the exercise and sunshine. The laundry was quick and expensive at $11. I'll have to do laundry by hand on the Tartan. Drying is the problem with this; it will take a powerfully sunny day to get things dry on the boat. But I'll cross that bridge when I come to it. Bob showed up just as I was finishing up the folding, we were happy to be reunited. Then we went to Publix for meat to grill and a bonus item (which in our language means a sweet snack). We couldn't find a dessert in the bakery that didn't have something weird in it, like preservatives, artificial flavors, other ingredients we couldn't pronounce, so I grabbed a yogurt and Bob a CozyShack pudding. On the way home, we stopped and snacked in Marathon's excellent city park.

 

 
Sailing in Hawk Channel, Straights of Florida 
 
Day 41 – Feb 24, 2010 – Research in Marathon – 0nm / 286 for trip

We spent the day in the library. In our search for local culture in a homogenous society, the library is a good place find the hidden local flare. I like to search down the books that one can't find any other place. I ended up with a stack of journals from the Historical Association of Southern Florida and I found out all sorts of cool stuff. Like how the shipwreck salvage business was one of the first industries that brought people to the Keys; these people included local Indians, Cubans, Jamacans, and pirates from all over. In 1714 a whole Spanish Plate fleet wrecked off Carysfort Reef, losing some 13 galleons full of precious metals from places in South America and the Philippines, silks from China, and spices and dies from the Indies. People came far and wide to salvage this loot, and even store houses of stolen goods were robbed. The last pirates were gone from the Keys by 1888 as a result of the decline in wrecks thanks to newly erected lighthouses, accurate charts, and the advent of steam propulsion. To this day, people are looting goods from hidden wrecks dotted throughout the Keys, finding pieces of eight washed ashore, there are even rumors of buried treasure on Boca Chica Key and yet-to-be-found shipwrecks off Duck Key. The ship wrecking industry was replaced by farming; for about a generation, the nutrient-poor Keys soil grew tropical fruits (pineapple, “Key limes”), but the soils couldn't support the needs of this industry and with the advent of the import business, local farming soon faded away. Actually, nearly all Key limes are now imported. Coinciding with this was the completion of Henry Flagler's overseas railroad in 1912. The story of the railroad is that of the power of human perseverance, technology, and lots of capital. Henry Flagler of Standard Oil fame started the project in 1894. Much can be (and has been) written about this feat, but just imagine what it took in the early 20th century to build a railroad that spanned the ocean, linking a string of islands, and it was the last thing Flagler accomplished in his life. The railroad helped the farming industry at first, but as goods from Central and South America began arriving in Key West shipped via the railway to the mainland US, demand for Key's-grown produce soon declined. Key West must have been quite a place at the turn of the 20th century. It was the hey day of sailing and besides Pensacola, Key West was the only port with enough deep water in close proximity to a major shipping lane. These cargo boats would announce their arrival by blowing on a Conch horn – perhaps the root of the sunset tradition? Key West actually was quite well-known for boatbuilding starting in the 1830s. They started by building small sloops and schooners for coastal and inshore waters. It became the lead boatbuilding port of Florida, building wrecking and fishing fleets, and later sponging fleets. This lasted until 1920. These boats were first built by New Englanders and Bahamians, and the locally built boats soon took on a distinct look that was a mixture of these influences: leg-o-mutton sails with large sail area that were easy to reef, heart-shaped transoms, wide beams, centerboards, and galley's placed top-side. These boats were built out of the local hardwoods: a type of local mahogany called “madeira” (Spanish for wood), Jamaican dogwood, Mastic, and Wild Tamarind, though most of these were used up by the late 1800s. The schooners that grace the waters in Key West today are a glorious reminder of a bygone era. Because of frail industries in the Keys, the populations have risen and fallen many times through the years, the population of mainland Florida have done nothing but rise. In 1895 there were only 3222 people living in Dade County (Miami area). In the 1920s, no city in Florida had over 50,000 occupants, just 20 years later, the population of Dade County alone grew to 267,000. I wonder what the effects of rapid human population growth are to the ecosystem as a whole. I did find out that in 1870, 2.5 million large wading birds called the Everglade's home for part of the year. By the 1970's only 250,000 remained. I also learned that the Gulf of Mexico used to be crystal clear, sailing over it was like floating; its now difficult to see the bottom in the Keys when the wind blows in water from the north...With all our cognitive thinking, it is the human's capacity to think and act ahead that separates us from other animals, we sometimes don't do a very good job of utilizing this power. Because of our love for the weather and nature of Florida, we are on a path of destruction that threatens to ruin the reason we love this place: the ecosystem surrounding the reef. How savage! For more information on reefs visit www.reefrelieffounders.com

But anyway, back in the library, we spent our time waiting on a weather window to head north into the Everglades. Ideally, we'd like a window of 2-3 days of southerly winds to take us across the Gulf and past Cape Sable. A storm blew in last night, cooling things off. There is a cold north wind today – okay its still 60-65° F and I'm wearing flip-flops, but also a sweater. People on the net monitored channel 68 during the storm in case someone needed help during the blow. There were some reports of anchors dragging in the 35 knot gusts, but this happened to those with only 1 anchor out or not enough scope. That's one of the reasons the harbor is filled with mooring balls, to organize and secure all the boats; it helps the cruisers who don't have local knowledge or lack experience. Our neighbor, Orion, the harbor sage, came by to make sure we had 2 anchors out before the storm. When we placed out our second, he said it, “Pleased him to no end.” He also mentioned he heard some people in the City Marina mentioning how we didn't have a proper head, and we could be fined hundreds of dollars and have to appear in court. I guess a bucket isn't good enough here – we guess he saw us dumping our pee overboard. We could have been more inconspicuous about it, or put it in a bucket until night, or better yet, not go into Boot Key Harbor without a holding tank. I guess we need to be better about knowing the rules when sharing an anchorage with so many boats, it's for the good of everyone. So we felt really bad about this problem that Orion brought up. Sometimes we feel like heroes for sailing this boat – no engine, dead reckoning, but to some, it's foolish. I can see that at first glance, we probably do look foolish, but in our minds, we are learning and have been doing so for 3 years in preparation for this cruise and we feel more seamanlike than many sailors that we've met along the way that have much larger boats, and this is because we are learing to be self-sufficient and don't rely on electronic gadgets. So we feel plenty safe, but after many years of experience, we may look back on our adventure upon Cosmos and fell differently about it.

Day 42 – Feb 25, 2010 – Leaving Marathon – 5 nm / 291 for trip

We are feeling quite ashamed for peeing in the harbor – we should have known better – wouldn't it be gross if everyone peed in the harbor? We're embarrassed that because of this issue, we now appear to be inconsiderate people who don't take the time to learn, and after 3 or has it been 4 years of preparation for cruising, well this situation just sucks...So the plan is to top off our provisions and get out of the harbor ASAP.

**Side Note:After returning to NC, we did some research and found: A boat that uses the City Marina facilities in Marathon, must have a holding tank, and many of their services include complimentary pumpout, but we would have had to look this up before arriving here, as the lady at the desk did not share this info with me, I found it online (I guess experience will teach me which questions to ask). Also, I found out that a portable toilet (which I believe includes a bucket with a lid though I didn't find any information about using a bucket and lid, but did find marine stores that sold toilet seats for buckets) is absolutely allowed in the US, as long as the waste is properly disposed of: 3 miles offshore, not in a no-dumping zone, or pumped out onshore. It is the fecal matter that is a health risk and introduces harmful bacteria to the marine environment, urine is sterile (though the pee from hundreds of people in a tight harbor would probably have some negative effects. We properly dispose of the fecal matter, and take this issue to heart. We didn't even think this would be an issue, since we've been hauling poop in a container since our white-water rafting days, and according to the folks at Leave No Trace, whose ethics we live by when in the backcountry, peeing in a body of water that is large enough for boats is environmentally okay.

We were up early and our neighbor, Bob gave us a ride in. We first went by the library to check the weather reports on sailflow.com and passageweather.com Our weather window of southerly winds is very small and sandwiched by two potentially dangerous storms, but we have no other choice. It could be another week before a day of south winds comes along, and we need to leave the harbor. So we walked to Publix for great deals on food, called a $2 taxi back to the marina, thumbed a ride to the boat, realized our water jugs were leaking, Bob got a ride back to shore, walked to West Marine, I made some phone calls, we packed up, weighed anchor and at 1530 we are off. We waved to Orion as we passed, thanking him for his advice and we set sail out of the harbor. As we got out into the Straits, the wind died, the water was smooth as glass (last time we were out here, the waves were 3 feet) and Bob managed to row against the strong 3-4 knot current to Pigeon Key where we anchored in 5 feet of water and went to sleep – tomorrow is a big day.
 

 
The Sunset Lit Up the Sky as We Sail Out of Marathon 
 

Day43 – Feb 26, 2010 – Back to the Everglades – 36 nm / 327 for trip

0400 Rise, shine, breakfast, get going! The winds are forecast to pick up from the east then slowly build and clock south then west before it starts to rain and blow like stink by early evening.Our goal is to try to make it the the Little Shark River, some 36 nm out (more distance than we've made in one day thus far) before the storm...

0500 Underway. So far the forecast is accurate, the wind began at 0400. We sailed under the bridge while it was still dark out, the moon (almost full) set as we entered the Bay and civil twilight began shortly thereafter. Last night while combing over the chart, we failed to look at our first move, from the anchorage to the bridge, and got into some thin waters as a result. Learned that lesson, when plotting a course for the day, start at your current location...We got a picture of the marker with the sun rising behind Marathon. In Good Ol' Boat Magazine, they have a contest for good pictures of markers, and we've been trying to get a good contestant. The winner gets published and a free t-shirt. Maybe this pic will win. (Side note- the pic was blurry, but that moment in our minds was a real winner). We passed 4 markers and set the heading at 3°. There is no land in sight and we're making 2.5 knots. In Marathon, we met a boat that was headed this way. He wanted to be our buddy boat (which means that we sail together), but all we wanted was to talk weather windows, we realized we were too small to be much of a buddy to him, though bless his heart, he didn't figure that out until much later. Anyway, Saildreamer, our “buddy boat” passed us about 0600. We shared weather reports and coordinates, our dead reckoning was spot on – good job team Cosmos. They motored off into the horizon, while we bobbed along, waiting for that forecasted increase in wind.

 

 

 
Stalking the Allusive Crab Pot Buoy - The "Double Pink
A Hobby Not for the Faint at Heart - Photo of a "Bee Buoy
 
It was slow going for the first 5 hours. We'd really like to make it to the Little Shark River before the storm hits, being anchored off of Cape Sable would be very rolly and potentially put us on a leeshore – not a good position. By noon, the wind had picked up, we were making 3-3.5 knots. Kept the genoa up, and it was great sailing, kind of lazy and we had lots of snacks to keep up moral. The water soon turned murky, a sign that we were getting close to the tannin rich Everglades. We chased down a few crabpots, trying to get a good picture of them was becoming a hobby - they are allusive little fuckers unless you're trying to avoid them, then they foul your prop or rudder. We got a great shot of a double pink, a yellow and black “bee” with hair, and a blue and white. Before we knew it, Cape Sable was in sight – our dead reckoning was accurate. So we decided to go for the Little Shark, the wind was freshening. I went forward to switch to the working jib, but since the wind was really blowing, we decided to go without headsail for awhile. The storm must be approaching.

The storm clouds began to build – rain was on the way. We prepared ourselves for this storm as the point for the Little Shark River appeared on the horizon. Then, it begins to pour rain with 30 knot gusts. It was a brief storm, and as it passed, a rainbow appeared in the sky, marking the entrance to our destination.

1700 Saildreamer is surprised to see us; we're surprised we actually made it. Our biggest run yet, 36 nm in 12 hours, that's 10nm over our current record! And our bodies feel it too. Anchor down, sail covers on, we take a breather, shove some pasta down our throats and we're off to lala land. It's nice to be back in the Everglades and the wilderness.
 

 
Sailing into the Little Shark River after a 36nm Run, a Rainbow Greets Us After a Squall
 

Day 44 – Feb 27, 2010 – Explore the Little Shark – 10nm / 337 for trip

A beautiful crisp sunny morning. I did a bit of wash and we decided to go for a a sail/fish up river to Oyster Bay. The trip up was so awesome last time, we had to do it again. On our way, we got our first official Manatee sighting! It seems like spring has sprung here, but I don't know if is actually has. It seams like the trees have more leaflets or maybe its my perspective after being in the keys, or my memories aren't accurate...I took over the tiller, practicing tacking about the bay while Bob fished in the shallow waters. This was my first experience at single-handing, and I did it! After years of practice, it's was no big deal – nothing I hadn't done before, just now it's all put together. But this was the first time I felt ready and up to the task, a person can't just decide that they can do, it just happens as skills are built. I must remind myself of this, as I have a tendency to jump into things too quickly, trying to prove myself...that rarely turns out well. Bob caught a few small mackerel and a few scary snake-looking fish with diamond eyes that were only slightly bigger than the lure – don't know what they were thinking. We then anchored for a lunchtime snack of PBJs, then tacked back down to the mouth of the river to rejoin the other boats. It took awhile, but the flowing current eventually kicked in, helping us make more forward progress.

Miss Grace, a boat we saw in Marathon applauded us for making the journey from the Keys in a Com-Pac 16 as we entered the anchorage. We then decided to anchor next to a bank, andour day took a scary turn...Before we knew it there was anchor rode wrapped all over the boat, the topsides covered in a big knot, we were pulling the wrong way on 2 anchors with too short of scope and getting pushed into the Mangroves. Both of us got nearly knocked off the boat and the boat got driven into the trees, were we fended off the branches, trying to pull up the anchors against the strong current. Eventually, we got both anchors weighed and luckily there was wind enough to sail, as the current could have pushed us into another boat or back into the Mangroves. I then got to work untangling the anchor rodes , which were now wrapped around the jib sheets, the bowsprit, the shrouds, and each other. At one point I nearly drop the Bruce into the water and slide off the deck myself. Bob calmly kept the boat underway, “going for a really slow sail” as he told a neighbor who had emerged from his cabin to make sure we didn't run into him. Finally, I got the mess sorted out and we re-droppped the anchors like we knew we could and nearly pass out from the near death experience. No applause heard.

What went wrong? I had gotten a little heady about my accomplishments of the day and from our compliment from Miss Grace, and didn't make sure all the steps of anchoring were properly taken-ie checking the depth, figuring the scope, determining our technique,etc. I had gotten lax, and expected Bob to pick up my slack. Bob threw out his stern anchor when my bow anchor had only 90 feet of rode out (not the proper 150), as I didn't have my anchor ready with the chafe guard in the proper place before I dropped it. A seemingly little mistake(s) and the shit hits the fan. I realize now that there are rarely little mistakes in boating, any mistake can lead to a life threatening situation in the blink of an eye.Luckily no one was hurt and no one fell off the boat and no property damage occurred. I learned that I have to get my act together and constantly be on my game or it could cost us our lives one day. As Bob said, “We do without the unnecessary items like engines, windlasses, and various other electronic gadgets to keep things streamline and simple, but it means that we have little if no room for error.” This boating is tricky business: from restoration to cruising, a sailor cannot let down his/her guard or else he/she will pay a hefty price. A great lesson that makes me a better person and that makes for a life of fulfillment, but sometimes the notion of working a 40 hour work-week then sitting on the couch seems like a good idea. I see now how it can happen that some people return from cruising prematurely and sell the boat . Tomorrow, more of trying to stay afloat.
 

 

 
A Pelican Greets Us at the Entrance to Little Shark River 
What Was This Little Fish Thinking? 
 

Day 45 – Feb 28, 2010 – Lost Day – 0nm / 337 for trip

As I double check my dates, I realize I've lost a day. Maybe somewhere in Marathon as we waited for a weather window, ahhh the cruising life.

Day 46 – March 1, 2010 – The Everglades – 11 nm / 348 for trip

Up and around, all the larger boats in the harbor have left. Low tide is at 0800 and the other boats with their deep drafts had to leave while the water was high enough to let them pass through the shallow channel. Light winds N-NW. The angle of the wind is just good enough for forward progress on a close haul with little tacking. W go through the suite of sails, but sailed mostly with the genoa. It took all day to make the mouth of the Broad River, some 11 nm north. NOAA calls for a storm tomorrow with blasts of 40 knots from the W-NW, so we need a safe protected anchorage. The entrance to the Bay River is tricky and shallow, but past the mouth the river get quite deep (8-12 feet). A couple of posts mark the approach, then it was up to us to weave our way, with the lead line in hand, through the murky water, around the Mangrove Island to the river proper. We have no depth-sounder so we use a lead line, that is a 3 lb. lead weight tied to a long rope that has been marked. We swing the lead and throw it in front of the bow, where it lands on the bottom, and with holding the line vertical, we call off the depth. In the days of Treasure Island, sailors on tallships would call this “flying the blue pigeon,” but their lead weights were much larger because they were measuring many fathoms of water, so I call using our little 3 weighter “flying the grackel.”

Captain Bob didn't like any of the spots we passed, so we kept heading up the river. Then we got to a confluence, which happened to be a leg of the wilderness waterway, called “The Nightmare.” (It is only passable at high tide). We decided it was our chance to take Cosmos on an up-close everglades journey. So with Bob on oars, and I “flying the grackel, ” we made our way up the narrow creek – what true adventurer can pass up exploring a place called “The Nightmare?”. (Don't be alarmed, “The Nightmare” doesn't bottom out until much higher up the creek, way past where we were going.) We ventured up until we came to a split where Willow Creek came in, and we decided to anchor at the confluence, which was a nice open circle, some 40 feet in diameter, perfect for a 16 foot boat. So there we sat, snuggled into a very safe harbor, though admittedly it made me a bit nervous to be so close to trees after yesterday's incident. It was a gorgeous evening as the sun set, the Ibis came to peck away at the mud flats that were now being revealed by the low tide. We wonder if we'll see any kyackers up here...
 

 
The Anchorage at the Little Shark River 
 

Day 47 – March 2, 2010 – In “The Nightmare” - 0nm / 348 for trip

It was a sound night's sleep in calm waters, the morning brought blue skies. I washed out the cockpit, to get ready for the rain which will do the final rinse. We ate our typical breakfast of mixed cereals and quick oats. Next, we played Scrabble, Bob got a bingo for “cautious,” the storm came and went, bringing a brief shower and a couple of gusts. It was a warm sunny day with some wind gusts felt here in our spot, though it must be a lot rougher out in the the Gulf. We both wish we had a kyack to take on an exploration, but we read and write instead. Lunch is PBJs, radishes, oatmeal cookies, honey wheat pretzels, and dried cherries (we might be beginning to gain weight, oops). Bob read HG Well's War of the Worlds, I read Stevenson'sKidnapped. The solar shower is heating on the foredeck.

Side Note: Upon our return to Everglades City, we learn form some local fisherman that the seas during the next couple days in the Gulf got to 6-7 feet and very dangerous. So it was smart to hole up in “The Nightmare.”
 

 

 
Our Anchorage in "The Nightmare" 
Sunset in the Wilderness Waterway - Everglades National Park 
 

Day 48 – March 3, 2010 – The Wilderness Waterway – 8nm / 356 for trip

Whew! Where do I begin...As I write, we sit in a little cove up the Broad River in Rodger's Bay, next to Lostman's Bay. We went up river, not out into the Gulf today, exploring deeper into the Everglades marshes and the Wilderness Waterway. Why? We knew it would be difficult going, being that the waters and conditions of the marsh were a complete mystery, and the Wilderness Waterway, not meant for sailing vessels. Unknown = Scary. But the forecast called for 20 + mph wind from the NW (our direction of travel). This is gale-force and the seas would be rough. Though it was difficult to believe this back in our protected hole next to “The Nightmare.” So going out into the Gulf today was not an option if the forecast was accurate. We had 2 choices: sit at the mouth of Broad River for a day or 2 or three until the wind and seas died down (boring) or face the unknown. You know, thinking of fighting strong currents and short-tacking in narrow channels lined with the piercing lances of Mangrove trees jutting out from the shore, sent chills down my spine. If we went up river, we would follow the Wilderness Waterway into a series of shallow bays in the marshes which led to the Lostman's River that we could take back to the Gulf. If we made 7-10 nm a day (with luck), we could do this in a few days. Forward progress would be better than no progress, even if slow, and how could we say no to adventure?

When we went to bed the night before, we had decided against going up the river – too many unknowns. Our plan was to wake at 0500 and head out at 1st light to catch the last of the tide heading out, low tide was at 0900. At 0200 the wind really startin kicking and Bob remembered the gale watch in effect for the next few days. We slept in until 0700 and decided to head out of “The Nightmare,” and anchor in the river for 2 hours until the tide changed and try to make our way up the river.

We weighed anchor and said goodbye to our lovely little cove and headed off. The winds were good, so I convinced Bob to keep sailing. We got about a mile before the fickle winds pushed us close to a Mangrove shore. We anchored to wait for the tide. It was perhaps a foolish decision to sail against the tide in light winds. Ninety minutes later (1000), the wind picked up and we weighed anchor, hoisted sails and began tacking our way up river about 5 nm to where the bays began. This was tricky sailing in a winding river with an opposing current ,even with the ebb tide. We would tack, let the genoa back to swing us through the nose of the wind, play it out, and bring it in as the boat rounded up, shifting our weight and untangling jib sheets as needed, Bob playing the tiller: balancing on the line between getting a good heading off the gusts and steering too close to the wind which, as a result, would steel any forward momentum. But as I mentioned, this had to be done in a river with a width of maybe 4 boat lengths. Some tacks were magic, others frightening.

The Mangroves along shore gave way to more grasses, willows and palms as we transitioned from Mangrove shores and into the marshes. The water turned a deep black and when scooped us was stained yellow with tannins. The large wading birds flew around and pecked at the mud. Best of all, we saw a crocodile slither into the water - a small guy, 6 feet long or so, after seeing this we realized we had heard them all day and saw many “slides” along the shores.

As we passed our first bay, we had to short tack up a very narrow winding creek into Rodger's Bay just south of the WillyWilly Indian Mound, where Lostmans' River #3 empties into Your Bay. Anyway, the wind picked up and the genoa sprang across the boat, cracking like a gun at each tack and often flogging between gusts. I had to make sure to not let the sail touch the shroud as it back-winded to keep the sailcloth from chaffing through. But at doing this, I had to make sure I didn't loosen it too much or too soon, which would cause us to lose our forward momentum – a crucial thing as we had to get quite close to the Mangroves on each tack. One false move and the branches sticking out of the shore would chew up our sails- Yikes!

So we made progress, our wind situation getting better at each bend that turned us eastward. At one point a motor boat with canoes strapped to it burst around the corner at full throttle, but saw us just in time to move over. We could see by the look on the kids' faces that they didn't expect to see a sailboat up here, but we were too busy “climbing a mountain” for social graces. So we smiled, waved, and went back to the tugging pulling, timing , squeaking out of our forward progress. I was panting, sweating, my forearms and hands feeling the strain. But we had to work like a team- a finely oiled machine. We were now past the point of return and had no choice but to keep on keepin' on. We got just enough of a break by the bends of the river or by strong gusts of wind to keep our spirits up. The latter coming more often now. As we entered Rodger's Bay, the boat heeled over enough to let water over the cockpit comings. We “high sided,” eased the sheets, and laughed at this passing moment that would have scared the day lights out of us had it not happened before and been any other boat but our well-built trust little Com-Pac 16. And then we took down the genny and hanked on the working jib. It was windy up there in the open bay, and we were glad that we hadn't gone our into the Gulf – it would have been rough and dangerous with no safe place to hide as we tried to round Romano Point. The jib was much better suited for short tacking in gusty winds than the genny, so it was like this as we shot past islands and NPS markers. We consulted the chart, did we want to follow the red “Wilderness Waterway” line or go a different route with more favorable winds? Just then, a big gust came down upon us, heeling us so forcibly that lots of water came rushing in the cockpit, filling it up. We immediately “high sided” and let out the sheets, but it wasn't enough. Bob turned into the wind, the boat behaving like a pregnant hippo, wanting to lay down. I jumped up as instructed and lowered the jib. Bob leaped forward and extracted the spare bucket from the inside of the cabin, water splashing over the compass board and into the compaionway. He started bailing, I jumped down from the foredeck and grasped for our dinky little bildge pump, hiding beside my bunk in the cabin. By this time, Bob had successfully emptied the cockpit, but the gusts kept coming. It was 1515 hours with a few more hours of daylight, we could get close to Lostman's River. We reefed the main. The boat still heeling in the gusts. Tacking was tricky with the high winds and small sail area, we had to jibe a couple of times when the boat wouldn't tack. These jibes made for close calls in the narrow channels; we had to take full advantage of each tack, getting within reaching distance of shore, but if the boat didn't turn, we didn't have much time to decide to turn it the other way, remembering to let the sails out as we turned so that the sails didn't back creating lost momentum, whew, well this didn't have to go on too long, before Captain decided to call it a day, now where was the nearest cove? Luckily there was one close by, that we tucked into and we dropped the hook into 4 feet of thick black smelly gloop, just a few feet from the Mangrove, but out of the wind and safe. Then I passed out, or felt like I could have after all that. we put the boat back together and dried everything out – including the chart that got a bit wet as it sunk in the cockpit under gallons of water. Only a little water got inside the cabin- our bedding stayed dry. It was an early dinner and off to bed. Tomorrow we try to make our way back to the Gulf – forecast for winds on the nose and we're only halfway though this part of the detour....

Day 49 – March 4, 1010 – Lostman's River – 7nm / 403 for trip

It is a cool morning, perhaps cooler than in February when we were last here. We weighed anchor at 0800, catching the tide while it was up enabled us to move through the bays until we reached Lostman's River at last. We were nervous about what the day would bring, shortacking in narrow spaces, but the going couldn't have been better – the winds favorable. By 1100 hours we had tucked ourselves behind a Mangrove Island and dropped the hooks. We stayed here for the night, and enjoyed the scenery.
 

 
Shorttaking up the Wilderness Waterway to Lostman's River in the Everglades

 Day 50 – March 5, 2010 – New Turkey Key – 10nm / 413 for trip

Frost this morning at sunrise – and a bright sunrise it was, filled the sky with all kinds of pinks and purples. We had to get going to beat the 1000 low tide. We had a tricky passage across shallow bay to get out into the Gulf, only 1-3 feet deep at low tide, with water too dark to reveal shoals. We skimmed the bottom a couple times, but never lost momentum. Bob did a great job getting us through that maze. Out in the Gulf, the wind was blowing 15+ knots and we went from genoa to main alone to jib with reefed main. A few uneasy moments were had during some of the stronger gusts with the rougher open water, but Cosmos held her own. As it warmed up, the wind calmed a bit and we were under genoa and main as we altered course to New Turkey Key. Bob pulled us right up to the beach where we anchored, hopped out, and waded ashore. Since the NPS doesn't' allow shell collecting, the beach was full of shells, bleached by the sun and in various stages of erosion: oysters, large Whelks, Spiney Oysters, Conchs, Snails, Horseshoe Crabs, and bits of coral. Some of the bigger shells had opened up to reveal the spiraling and twisting frameworks that remind one of the outstanding order in nature – a mathematician – especially one into fractals would have a hey day on this beach. We walked amongst the shells, mangroves, grasses, and a single palm poking at sponges, hopping sandbars, and ruffling the feathers of a nesting Osprey mother ( we quickly moved along as she screamed at us). I had often wondered what a beach would be like if no one collected the shells that washed up. This gave me an idea; I was amazed at the number of larger shells. I suppose finding a big one isn't as rare as I thought (though I've never come across one at an easy-access public beach - I guess you have to get up early...).

We moved the boat to a more protected location, and watched the birds rest on some pylons and the fishing boats go zooming about for the rest of the afternoon.
 

 

 
A Decomposing Whelk 
Red Mangrove Exposed at Low Tide 

 Day 51 – March 6 – Close to the End – 10nm / 423 for trip

A beautiful sail today brought us to another one of our “spots” near Panther Key. There is lots of traffic here, as a channel from Chokoloskee comes in near the mangrove. These fisherman jet around seemingly without regard to depths or tides, often over areas that we would never even dream of approaching in our 2 foot draft sailboat. There confidence either comes from years of fishing these waters, GPS units (though I wouldn't trust them), or dumb luck. Still makes me a bit nervous. This morning as we left camp, we noticed one of these boats had come into camp at the sandy beach, and pulled his boat close to shore without regard to tide. This mistake cost him, he'll be high and dry most of the day. But hey, they get a good day at the beach, and I bet he takes a tide table with him next time. There is a chance at reaching Everglade's City tomorrow, feeling sad at leaving this wilderness paradise.
 

 

 
Cosmos At Anchor New Turkey Key - Flordia Everglades
Bob Walking the Beach at Low Tide in the Everglades 

 Day 52 – March 7, 2010 – Everglade's City – 10 nm / 433 for trip

Another day of up early to beat the tide. It was a nice sail to Indian Key, where the channel takes boaters to Everglade's City. Then we had to beat up the channel in very light airs. A warm sunny day and we ghosted up the channel, past marker 7 (that we anchored next to twice by mistake on the way down), past the marker with the Osprey's nest – the eggs have now hatched, past some people canoeing to the next camp, the park service boats were zipping about – we didn't charge for photographs, though if we had we could have retired. We did look nice with our colorful black, orange, and red drifter against the backdrop of green mangroves, black water, and white sugar sand. It took most of the afternoon to make it to Everglade's City, we even had to row some. This is where Bob and I disagree some: I would have been happy to row all day, but if there is even a whisper of wind, Bob would rather sail. That's why he's the captain of a sail boat, and when he says “row,” I row, when he says, “hoist the jib,” I go on the foredeck. I find it difficult to stay on task on hot light air days, but since we were working against current in a narrow channel, we had to be sharp. I still need some discipline in the “staying sharp” category. The palm-lined streets of Everglade's City were soon in sight. After experiencing Florida's coastal towns, this place seemed like a gem. It still has a small-town character and lots of flare. We were soon tied up next to historic Rod and Gun Club and its treacherous ramp. Bob scampered off to get the van, I tended lines and prepped the boat for take-out. I was in a daze, here we are at the end, and I had mixed emotions. Totally exhausted from the journey and the long hot day, I had no time to indulge in emotions, there was a lot of work left before sleep. Our first attempt at extracting the boat didn't work, we missed the narrow slot where the keel had to fit onto the trailer. So Bob backed it back in, way in so that the car muffler was completely submerged, and we tried it again. As we were working the boat, the van started to back down into the water. Bob ran to the driver's seat to rescue our van (good thing VW's float), and we worked at getting the boat on the trailer once more. At one point, the boat fell back, scratching the hull against the trailer, creating a deep gouge, ruining a perfect two-month run. But we got it out, put down the mast, and took off to the BackcountryMarina.com to wash up. We had to empty all the contents out of the boat, clean it up a bit, and put some stuff back; most of it got packed into the van to lessen the towing load. It was dark by the time we had accomplished this. Tired, hungry, and stinky this process was trying. Luckily the kind folks at the BackcountryMarina.com stayed late to let us shower before we headed off. Bless them! Feeling refreshed from our showers, we went to find the nearest burger and fries. During dinner, we reflected upon our journey and dreamed of the future. Our thoughts brought us back to the first time we drove into Everglade's City.

 

 
The Palm-Lined Streets of Everglades City 
 
 We've come a long way and learned a heap since we were last here. We've now been exposed to the cruising lifestyle and the ways of good seamanship. Bob is a proper captain, and I, well, I'm now a first-mate. We have been both disappointed and happily surprised at what this lifestyle brings. It is a damp, salt-encrusted existence, hauling oneself and the gear from the boat to shore on your back. Everything is a logistical challenge: how to get to town, where to find a needed item, how to get there, what if you forgot something, etc. And sometimes people treat you as if you want something for nothing, because the lifestyle forces you to rely on others for help. Cruising also forces you to be constantly on your game, and if not the consequences could mean your life. But on the other hand, cruising will allow us to immerse ourselves in the cultures, places, and wilderness of many places. Like we found out on this journey, the connections we form with the people and the places are much more intimate than other forms of travel, and the challenges will result in an accumulation of knowledge and a feeling of fulfillment. Now we will go forward with the Tartan 27, grateful that we've had this experience aboard Cosmos. Though I don't think our adventures on our little Com-Pac 16 are quite over.
 

 

Historic Rod and Gun Club - Everglades City, FL
 
 After getting packed up, we drove to Chokloskee Island for some exploration. This island was built up by the Caloosa Indians, who used the only available resource, seashells, to raise the ground higher than the surrounding waters. The Caloosa people had large villages and a complex culture, with a population of as many as 50,000 people! Chokoloskee was one of their largest colonies, and their efforts at raising the level of the island still remain. In fact, the locals still use this resource for construction, in stead of mixing sand or gravel into concrete, seashells are used, which creates a rather esthetically-pleasing effect. We explored the Smallwoods Store Musesum, a historic old store on the water, started by one of the original English Settlers, and delved into the rich hisroty of this area. A harsh environment to live in for most of the year, south-west Florida is home to all sorts of randy outlaws, bandits, and near ex-patriots. An interesting place to visit if you ever get the opportunity. After Chokloskee, we got back into the VW Westfalia, and headed north. It was a realativley boring trip home (which is the best one can hope for), no break downs. We did pick up a young transient hitch-hiker who travels about the country with the seasons (much like us), he gave us a piece of coral for the van, our only material souveigner of the trip (besides boat gear).
 

 

 
Mangrove Growing out of Shell Mounds, Created by Caloosa Indians 
Inside of Smallwood General Store - Chokoloskee 
 
 
 Glossary: in loose terms

Anchor Rode – the rope or chain or combination of the two that lead from the anchor to the boat.

Foulies – Foul Weather Gear or rain gear. We like Grundens brand, cheap and bullet-proof so to speak. It's what the commercial fisherman use.

Genoa – The large headsail that connects to the bow (foreward end) of the boat. Used for sailing in lighter winds.

Jib – the smaller headsail that connects to the bow (foreward end) of the boat. Used for sailing in heavier winds, made of heavier cloth and is smaller than the genoa. Often the sail that is used most of the time.

Jibe - technique used to alter coarse, where the boat turns completely around, away from the wind, before heading in its new direction.

Jib Sheet – the rope that runs from the headsail (either genoa or jib) back to the cockpit, controlling the bottom, outer corner (clew) of the sail.

Knot – a speed measurement meaning one nautical mile per hour. About one mile and hour.

Nautical Mile – 1.15 statute miles, used to describe one minute of a degree of latitude

Rigging – the system of wires that hold the mast up.

Shrouds – the wires that run from the mast to each side of the boat (port and starboard).

Spreader – the poles that stick out of the mast that keep the shrouds tight.

Tack – technique used to alter coarse, where the boat passes through the eye of the wind a short distance before heading in its new direction.

 
Whisker Pole – the aluminum pole that holds the outer corner (clew) of the headsail (either genoa or jib) out. This is useful when running dead downwind. Otherwise the mainsail blankets the wind, and the sail flops from one side to the other, confused.
 

 

 
Captain Bob During the Shakedown Sail of Cosmos 
First-Mate Molly Sailing on a Calm Day in the Gulf of Mexico  
 
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