01/17/2010, Marathon, Florida
We enjoyed Key West, kinda... The anchorage wasn't good, it was cold, and windy, but the town was fun and we enjoyed exploring and watching people. Mallory Square is a place in Key West that everyone watches the sunset and street performers come and give small shows (including dog tricks). Nancy & I had fun watching the street shows and people, also another beautiful sunset. The weather looked good for a Sunday passage to Marathon on the Atlantic side halfway up the Keys. At least the wind speed and direction looked promising....
On Saturday we brought Four Points into the dock and loaded up with fuel & water. We were ready to leave Sunday morning for the 60 nm passage to Marathon.
We woke up early and got underway with overcast skies. As we pushed through the tidal current and headed out, the sky looked pretty dark and foreboding. Once we turned out of the Key West channel the wind was up and from a good direction to sail. Four Points kicked up to seven knots and we were making good time. After a few hours of good sailing the dark sky opened up with Florida rain. Florida rain is different that California rain.... the rain drops are huge and come down in a major way. With the heavy rain (warm rain....yeah!) the wind died down and we had to motor sail the rest of the way. Well at least Four Points got a good fresh water wash down...
We arrived a Boot Key at about four o'clock and found an open mooring. We attempted to anchor but it was very tight and we weren't sure about the tidal currents, so we opted for a secure mooring. I dropped in the dinghy and we went to the city office to check in. The place is large with about 300 boats and Marathon City has done a good job creating a cruising friendly place. It has a large room with TVs, tables, WIFI, library, and small workshop. We walked a mile to the nearest market and loaded up with food, and took a five-dollar taxi ride back.
We ended up staying three nights waiting for weather to cross the Gulf Stream. On the third night Susan & Kevin drove down from Coconut Grove (South Miami) and we went out for a fun dinner (thanks Susan & Kevin!). After reviewing all the weather information for the Gulf Stream crossing we decided to leave on Wednesday afternoon for a night crossing of 130 miles to Bimini, Bahamas.
01/11/2010, Key West, Florida
After keeping track of the storms from the Northeast, we saw we had a weather window to make the sail from Dry Tortugas to Key West. We decided that we would leave at daybreak the next morning to make the 65nm passage to Key West, to insure that we would arrive during daylight. Two other boats that were anchored near us had made the same decision. We followed our GPS track out of the anchorage to avoid hitting any shoals (we didn't hit any going in so we felt it was a safe track) around the Fort Jefferson. Brian had charted our course to cross Rebecca Channel, and south of the keys, staying fairly close to the 20 foot depth line. The wind stayed pretty consistently at 15 knots, allowing us to turn off the motor early in the day and sail averaging 7-7.5 knots towards Key West, FL. We were anxiously looking forward to a new landfall, in hopes that we would be able to shed some of our winter gear and soak in the warm tropical sun! Yes, that's right, we ARE in Florida and still wearing winter gear maybe we are actually in Kansas after all! We arrived and made our way up the Channel towards the anchoring field well before dusk. We anchored at the south end of Fleming Island, near the Coast Guard Station. We could see a couple of cruise ships moored at the dock just off Mallory Square. We are amazed the number of boats here anchored, both cruisers and dreg boats. It is an interesting area to anchor in, just off the main channel, where the wind venturies through the cut of small islands from the Atlantic to the Gulf of Mexico and the tidal currents are as strong as 4-6 knots at times.
The next morning, Brian launched our dinghy and we cruised into the Marina area to search out the dinghy landing. We explored Key West on foot, checking out all the potential sights that we wanted to return to during our stay here. The weather is still cold and the prediction was that colder weather was coming! We rented bikes and rode around the island, exploring and doing the necessary provisioning. Unfortunately we are anchored too far out to get internet from the boat. We found a great gourmet grocery store that has an internet loft that is opened to cruisers. We knew that another Nor'easter was coming bringing in an even colder front in.....predicting record breaking temperatures, yeah that is right the "coldest" winter temperatures in Key West in 40 years! I am starting to buy into the "McCluskey curse" Brian always talks about! No we are not shedding our winter gear, we are finding every piece of warm clothing and putting it on! Thinking that it was warm in the "tropics" we left our boat heaters in San Diego and only packed min warm weather clothes!
Unbelievable! The weathermen predicted it right! As it was predicted the nor'easter hit Key West! The winds gusting to 35 knots and the 4 ft swell hitting the bow woke us up frequently, making anchor checks through out the night. We used the anchor alarm just as a safety net. At times the wind waves and the current were at full war making the boat feel like we were in a washing machine. This was not in the brochure that I read when I signed up for this...it must have been in the small print! LOL! Jumping out of bed, feeling the rush of very cold air, from the drop in temperature, we quickly donned our foul weather gear, just in time to feel that the anchor let go and begin to drag with the last gust. Brian got the motor started while I turned on all the instruments and running lights (it was 4 hours before sunrise so it was pretty dark outside) We worked together, me at the helm and Brian pulling up the anchor as we endured the howling wind (25-30 knots) and cold rain while still avoiding hitting any of the surrounding boats. Once the anchor was secure on deck, Brian took the helm and we motored along the channel waiting for sunrise so we could see to re-set the anchor. The rain or wind never let up so by the time we were able to re-set the anchor we were very cold and very wet! Since re-setting the anchor we had another cold front come in, which left us no choice to stay on the boat for the last 68 hours, 32 and Â˝ minutes, but whose counting. We are holding up pretty well, we both are still alive! Just a little bit "boat crazy", ready to get on land to walk a bit and get some internet time. We have been able to make a large dent into our book supply! We have been able to keep warm by heating up the cabin with warm meals and hot showers with the engine!
As far as we know we are going to be here in Key West until the weather changes in our favor to head to the Bahamas and to hopefully to warmer weather. Hope everyone is doing well and for those people on the east coast keeping warm! Stay in touch, we miss everyone. Pray for warm weather, fair winds and following seas!
01/05/2010, Dry Tortugas, Fort Jefferson
We had a fun and expensive time in Marco Island and we were ready to push farther down the coast to the Dry Tortugas. We have read a lot about this interesting place and really wanted to see it for ourselves... it is an island that the "North" built, a brick fort on a small island, during the Civil War. I recommend you google it and check it out....very interesting. After insuring we were ready to leave we set sail on Wednesday (12-30-09) at around 2:30pm in the afternoon. The distance is about 95nm from Marco Island and North-East winds of about 15 knots were forecasted.
Offshore Marco Island the wind was light so we motored sailed for a couple of hours. Our biggest concern was the amount of crab traps everywhere with prop fouling potential. We had to have a constant watch and steer around the small floats, which mark each trap. At times we could count 15 traps around us, which worried us once nightfall came. The wind started turning on and we stopped the engine and cruised under sail alone. We watched a beautiful sunset as we sailed offshore to the Dry Tortugas. Somehow we didn't get our propeller wrapped in any traps during the night. We sailed towards the main island, Garden Key, through a very choppy Rebecca Channel. The entrance is shallow and can only be entered during day light hours. We anchored safety in a beautiful spot right off Fort Jefferson in 25 feet of water with a sandy bottom. As soon as we anchored a huge Goliath Grouper decided to hang out in the shade under our boat. He looked at least 180lbs.... I grabbed my dive mask and jumped into the warm water and the Grouper let me dive right up to him and we met face to face. We sat on the anchor for the day and got up early the next day to tour the Fort. Wow, what an interesting place. We walked around and took pictures and enjoyed the views. We met some of the Federal employees who stay on the island for 10 days at a time with 4 days off the island. At 10:30am two boats arrive with tourists from Key West a 70 mile trip. Most come for the day, but some bring their camping gear and stay the night. We hunted down the Captain of one of the tourist boats and asked about the best route to Key West. Captain Graham was helpful and we went over a navigation chart and discussed the best way to cross the cranky Rebecca Channel. Him and his crew were a big help; local knowledge is always great to have.
We knew a storm was coming so I dove to check on the anchor and let out some scope to ensure we wouldn't drag. Well, we watched the thunderhead approach and then the wind and rain came hard. The wind hit 35 knots and the other two sailboats in the anchorage started dragging their anchors, also a 128 foot motor yacht dragged and ended up running aground. Our anchor held but one of the other sailboats had to grab the National Park mooring buoy and we were just up wind of them. This was a cause for concern for us because if we did drag we would end up running into them. This meant we had to pick up anchor and re-set in heavy wind. Well, our maneuver went well and in a short time we were re-anchored in a better spot. The wind blew hard all night. We stayed another couple days to let the weather pass. What a great place.... We wish the weather were better when we were here so we could explore some of the outer Keys. If you visit Key West save some time to explore Dry Tortugas.
12/30/2009, Marco Island FL
Once we were able to get the boat organized after moving aboard, well at least to get everything "tucked" away, we shoved out of the slip at Gasparilla Marina boatyard over to the fuel dock to top off the tanks for our journey south! If you could see us, you would think that we were leaving somewhere from the northeast, all bundle up in our winter gear. The temps here have been dropping down into the 40's, yeah I guess you can call us wimps but we have really gotten use to the warmer temperatures, and have been quite amazed how cold it can get here in Florida!
We needed to leave in the mid-afternoon, because the distance we were traveling (~80 nm) was too far to make in one day, especially since we needed daylight to make it through the cut (Charlotte Harbor to Gulf of Mexico) and to arrive at our new destination, Marco Island. We were not really looking forward to an overnight passage for our first time back on Four Points but felt it was necessary to get down the coast a bit before January.
We were pleasantly surprised how calm the Gulf of Mexico (initially anyway) was once we came through the cut. It was predicted to have 1-foot seas with 3-second intervals, which in my book, is choppy, and not usually a comfortable ride! With this in mind, I took some motion sickness meds, "just in case", especially since it had been an awhile since we have been out on the seas, and I have not gotten my sea legs back! Well, if you remember from before (previous blogs), when I take this medication it makes me soooo sleepy (basically useless for several hours) then after I sleep I am wide-awake without feeling seasickness. This is how I landed the "night helmsman" position. Well, that was the plan.....do I need to say more?
We were able to cut off the motor and sail pretty early on in the passage. As nightfall came and the half-moon rose, the winds picked up and the seas became increasingly choppy (3ft seas at 2-3 second intervals). Seas choppy enough for me to take more motion sickness meds....and I continued to sleep just waking up long enough to figure out which of our things made a noise after being shaken from its tuck away place in the boat! I finally was able to crawl out of the cabin around 3 AM to give Brian a chance to get a few winks before entering Marco Island River. We just made our first tack towards our final destination. The winds kicked up to 22 knots, on our nose and the seas still 3-4 ft at 3-second intervals. I think Brian just got to sleep (15 mins later from when I took the helm) and we both started smelling a burning smell. When we checked the engine was overheating and the cabin was filled with smoke. After the smoke cleared out of the cabin Brian was able to diagnose the problem. The belt to the raw water pump had broken and within minutes broke the seal (gasket and bearings) to the fresh water pump and sprung a few holes in the wet exhaust muffler. Brian was able to fix the belt while we were underway and would be able to assess and fix the damage once we got into the anchorage. Since we arrived the day before Christmas, the Marina/Boatyard was closed until the following Monday. We were thankful after searching the internet we were able to find and get the parts shipped to the boatyard the next day.
Once the parts are in place we will then start our journey south to the Dry Tortugas! Hopefully the weather will start getting warmer! Stay tune we will write more and post more pictures in the gallery! Wishing everyone a Happy, Healthy New Year, and for those fellow cruisers fair winds and following seas!
Hope to see you on the trail,
Repairs at Marco Island.... When I installed the new raw water pump the alignment of the drive belt was off. When I had the new pulleys installed they had pushed the pulleys to far onto the shaft and I didn't notice the mis-alignment until after the belt broke and the engine overheated. Thankfully, diesel engines can take more overheating than gas engines, but I found out the pressure in the freshwater cooling system damaged the engine's internal circulating water pump. I also found a couple of leaks in my wet exhaust muffler, but I don't know if this was related to the overheating or not. The muffler is original equipment on the boat so I guess it was time to be replaced. Monday morning I ordered the required parts and hoped they would arrive on Tuesday as promised. Well, I couldn't believe it but the parts arrived on time. I worked all day installing the muffler; it was buried under the water heater and the bilge pump. The 3-inch hoses are a pain to get off, but with a lot of pain and pulling (and some help from the mechanic) I was able to install the new replacement. The mechanic installed the circulating pump, but now I know I could have done it by myself.
I ran the engine for hours after the repairs and the engine stayed at the correct temperature and no leaks......yea!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
12/21/2009, Venice, Florida
It is amazing how time has flown since we sailed across the Gulf of Mexico to Florida. It was a very busy summer for me! I completed 3 more courses towards my DPT degree (only 2 more to go yipppeee!!) and I worked in outpatient clinic nearby...close enough to ride my bike. We are now in the midst of moving back on the boat and preparing to set sail sometime before the holidays, weather permitting of course. Yesterday they were predicting 10-12 foot seas! Yikes! I believe the seas have calmed down a bit today but still "moving" back on to the boat.
We have enjoyed our stay here in Venice, FL (Cougar town area for those who watch the show) but anxious to continue our sailing adventure toward the Caribbean! We are thankful that my parents welcomed us into their home with open arms. I have to admit it was an adjustment after living on a boat for 8 mos. and living on your own since leaving for college and I am sure it was for them especially since they have had "an empty nest" for a long time! Thanks a lot Mom and Dad! We truly have appreciated our time with you and will miss you. We hope that you will be able to come visit us somewhere along the way.
Thanks again for allowing us to live with you during huricane season...love you!
Once we are settled and start heading southbound, we will write more about our second part of our sailing adventure! The picture is of the Sandhill Cranes, adults with their teenagers eating on the Pelican Point golf course just outside the lanai.
See you on the trail,
12/18/2009, Gasparilla, Florida
Well it's time to get underway again...we have had a good time in Florida staying with Nancy's parents. They have been gracious hosts letting us stay with them for the last six months. We enjoyed our visit and we made it safety through a mild hurricane season (experts predicted this was going to be a very active season....didn't happen). We are putting the boat back together and re-packing all our stuff, it seems like we are lost in the details. For the boat people out there here is what we've done to Four Points during our stay here.
1. Painted the bottom with new bottom paint (marine growth is faster in the tropics, I was having to scrub the bottom often).
2. Had the hull buffed and waxed (sailing 4000 miles and spending time in the mangrove backwaters ready discolored the hull. Now it is bright and shiny)
3. The rear seal in the transmission was replaced (it leaked the whole time during the last passage).
4. Had the shaft stuffing box serviced (we have a drip-less seal but needed cleaning and polishing)
5. I sanded and varnished the toe rail.....looks good again..
6. Installed the sails back on the boat including the Mack Pack (had the main sail repaired at a local sail loft)
7. Replaced one head (toilet)
8. Going to install a dingy davit, once the rain stops today....
9. Made new inside window coverings...
10. Made some rain shields for the ports
11. Installed a new SSB radio (our old one received but didn't transmit)
Our next stop is Marco Island (West Coast of Florida), an overnight sail from here. Then on to the Dry Tortugas....then maybe Key West for Christmas. The next season of sailing will be very weather dependent because until we get pass Puerto Rico we will be heading into the wind. They call this section of the passage, the Thorny Patch for good reason...lots of wind and waves.
We will be missing everyone on Christmas and just know you are in our hearts...
Please check out the blog now and again to see our progress...and please comment or email anytime...we love hearing from you.