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Jascat to the Bahamas
Matecumbe Bight to Boot Key Harbor, Marathon
John/warm with intermittent showers
04/05/2013, On a mooring ball in Boot Key Harbor

Down in the dumps on Jascat, John working on the starboard fuel tank

Yesterday, after a great sail from Matecumbe Bight we motored into Boot Key Harbor in the afternoon, and the engine promptly died. But more about that later. The reason we came into Boot Key was that the weather forecast was predicting rain and high winds to set in that night and carry through the next day. Sure enough, about 2am the heavens burst loose with thunder and lighting, and a sod soaking gully washer. The winds buffed us around some but never got up to dangerous levels. We were safe and secure on one of Boot Key's mooring balls so we got to enjoy the storm looking out the windows.

Now about that engine failure. The symptoms were exactly the same as happened two weeks ago in Angelfish Creek. After 20 minutes or so of steady motoring at cruise power, the engine died when the throttle was pulled back to idle. The engine could be induced to run again as long as the throttle was held above about half power. As before, this happened while running on the starboard fuel tank with the fuel level down to about 5/8's tank. After several nervous minutes spent drifting in a narrow channel, switching over to the port fuel tank got the engine back to running normally, allowing us to come on into the harbor and pick up a mooring ball.

So, the fuel cleaning, and the discovery and removal of a paper gasket in the starboard fuel tank a week ago didn't fix whatever the problem is. A phone consultation with Skip, the fuel tank cleaner, suggested a couple of other things to look at having to do with the fuel tank hardware, so I've spent today, between rain showers, working on the tank. Everything I can look at seems ok so I guess we are just going to have to live with the problem until we get back to Pensacola. Basically, we'll be running on just the port tank and refilling it from jerry cans when needed on longer passages.

I really hate leaving harbor with a system on the boat not working properly. Sailing safely is hard enough without having something else to worry about.

Tavernier Key to Matecumbe Bight
John/80 deg and 10-15 kt SE winds
04/03/2013, At anchor in Matecumbe Bight

Base of electric power pole next to Channel 5 bridge

There's not much to report today. We pulled up anchor at Tavernier Key a little before 9am and after a great sail, dropped it back down in one of our favorite bay side anchorages, Matecumbe Bight, at 1:20pm. The afternoon's activities consisted of lunch (pork loin sandwiches), a short nap for me while Ann repaired the sling seat, a snorkel swim check of the anchor by me, and Caribbean showers off the back of the boat for the both of us. In the evening, we barbecued chicken, read, and of course, wrote the blog and posted facebook. And to top it all off, Ann won at Solitare without cheating (she says). How could a day be any better than that.

We are expecting the wind to start ramping up into the 20+ knot range starting Thursday night (that's tomorrow) and stay there through Friday. So tomorrow we are going to pull into Boot Key Harbor and tie up to one of their mooring buoys. I trust my anchor but only when I have too.

Rodriguez Key to Tavernier Key via Molasses Reef
John/warm with calm winds
04/02/2013, At anchor on the north side of Tavernier Key

How would you like to be swimming in the same pond as this guy?

What a difference two days makes. Back on Sunday Ann and I, and quite a few paying tourists, tried to snorkel Molasses Reef with four foot waves breaking over the reef. That was a pretty rotten experience but Molasses Reef itself looked like it might be a great snorkel site on the right day. Well,Tuesday was that day.

For the past week, the weather forecast has been predicting calm winds for Tuesday. And sure enough, Tuesday dawned with only a light breeze from the north. So we set out to give Molasses Reef one more try.

Molasses Reef is only about 4 nautical miles out from Rodriguez Key so we motored out in about 45 minutes arriving at the reef just before 10am. Most of the way out, we thought we were going to have the reef to ourselves but just as we were coming up to the reef, two or three fast dive boats beat us out. More came in later. No problem though. Molasses Reef has a vast field of mooring buoys - Ann counted at least 30. So we took up mooring buoy number 16 and hustled into our wet suits.

Unlike last Sunday, the water was nearly calm with only a half foot of chop. As before, visibility was at least 20 feet. The water temperature was even warmer at about 80 deg. After a great swim of maybe 20 minutes we got back on the boat for a rest. That's when the big guy in the picture above showed up. This huge glass bottomed boat spent about 15 minutes maneuvering around our boat showing the reef to its load of tourists. At times I wasn't sure whether the reef was the main attraction or if it was us.

After the tour boat left, we went for another snorkeling tour of the area and saw even more of the site. It's a great place to snorkel given the right conditions. I'd really like to spend the whole day there on a blazing hot summer day with dead calm winds.

After a sandwich lunch at Molasses Reef we motored for an hour back to Tavernier Key which is only a couple of miles further down the Keys from Rodriguez Key. For most of the afternoon, we had the anchorage to ourselves. Just before supper (steaks on the bar-be), we went for a swim in the warmest water yet, 84 deg. Perfect end to a great day.

Rodriguez Key to Hens and Chickens and Back
John/warm with light breeze
04/01/2013, At anchor on the NE side of Rodriguez Key

What Rodriguez Key looks like if you don't have a wide angle lens (it doesn't look any different when you do)

Our trip out to Hens and Chickens to go snorkeling didn't go so well. Well the trip did actually. We had an easy, pleasant six hour sail over there and back averaging about 4 kt in light winds. It was the snorkeling that didn't make it. We went to H and C because it's inside the channel and so is supposed to be less chopped up by waves when the outside reefs are rough. The guide books warn, however, that the water can be cloudy and that's exactly how it was. Ann found the visibility to be less than four feet during her checkout of the site. As most of the attractions are more than six feet down, that put an end to the snorkeling.

The other problem we found with Hens and Chickens is that it can be at times just as rough as the outside reefs. Not with wind waves but with power boat wakes. Hens and Chickens lies right in the middle of the channel and is washed by every power boat that passes.

Tomorrow we are going to give Molasses Reef another chance. The winds are forecast to be nearly calm in the morning so we are hoping for a wave free snorkel.

Pumpkin Key to Rodriguez Key via Molasses Reef
John/warm and breezy
03/31/2013, At anchor on the NE side of Rodriguez Key

The Eyes of Texas are Upon You - one of the 18 boats anchored with us behind Rodriguez Key - this anchorage is the largest on the ocean side of the Keys

Today was the first day on this trip that really felt like summer. The sea breeze is still cool, but in the lee, the sun has finally started to heat things up. Even the water temperature is tolerable but more about that later.

We left Pumpkin Key at 8:15am after a perfect night at anchor. The early departure was to get us out to Molasses Reef at noon for our first snorkel adventure of this trip. And an Adventure (yes, with a capital "A") it turned out to be. Our path took us through Angelfish Creek and out into the Hawk Channel where we turned south in a fast (6 to 7 kt) near close hauled sail all the way to Molasses Reef. The seas were about 2 feet which made us start to worry about the conditions on the reef. With the wind from the SE as it was, the waves can build up as they pass over the reef. As we neared Molasses, however, we could see that the snorkel/dive boats were still operating on the reef so we figured if they can do it, we can. Turns out that they are really tough guys.

The mooring buoys for Molasses Reef are on the ocean side of the reef and we were sailing on the channel side so we had to turn and drive straight into the waves to get to the mooring field. As we passed near the north end of the reef, the waves were up to four feet with the occasional six footer thrown in. Water was crashing over the bow. We considered turning around but, we said, "hey, the tour operators are out there, so the waves must smooth out as you get to the mooring field." Well, the mooring field was just about as bad. Ann and I have gotten pretty good at picking up mooring balls so we managed to get tied up but it was a real struggle.

At this point, the boat was pitching up and down like a drunken sailor and we wondered if getting in and out of the water could be done safely. Looking over at the tour boats we could see heads (snorkelers) bobbing in the water so we decided we had to give it a try.

So, I was first in and wow, what a great place to snorkel. The water was clear to at least 30 feet (we were moored in about 12 feet of water with deeper channels off to either side). There were fish galore. All the usual reef suspects were there: sargent majors, parrot fish, barracuda, porgy's, grunts, etc. The bottom was covered with multicolored fans waving in the current. The scene was just beautiful. So I waved for Ann to jump in.

I should mention that the water temperature was a comfortable 78 deg due no doubt to the Gulf Stream passing just a few miles away. The reason that coral reefs exist as far north as the Florida Keys is because they are washed with the warm waters of the Gulf Stream. With my wet suit on, I could have stayed in the water for an hour or more.

However, my stay in the water turned out to be pretty short. About 10 minutes after Ann got in the water and we had started touring around the boat, I started to get sea sick. Something about staring at the sea bottom and floating up and down in four foot waves got to me. So I got back on the boat and watched Ann swim. Getting back in the boat turned out to be no trouble at all. You just had to time going up the ladder with the waves.

So ended our first snorkel adventure. Tomorrow we are going a little further south to a snorkel spot called "Hens and Chickens" (the name means a big rock with other small rocks scattered around). It's on the inside of the off shore reefs so should be much smoother than Molasses Reef.

Dinner Key to Pumpkin Key
03/30/2013, At anchor on the west side of Pumpkin Key

Beans and sausage, cornbread, and mixed fruit, "Oh so good!"

How wonderful to be out sailing again. The forced stay in harbor the past week had both Ann and I questioning our decision to cruise the Keys. Driving the crowded streets of Miami wasn't what we signed up for!

The sail from Dinner Key down to Pumpkin Key went a long way toward making up for the lost week. Every trip we've made through Biscayne Bay, either going or coming, has been delightful. This one was no exception. We had a nice 8 to 12 kt breeze over the port rear quarter the whole day and the temperature was in the mid 70's. With the autopilot keeping us on course, we relaxed as we cruised along and enjoyed all the action out on the bay. This being a holiday weekend, there were boats, sail and motor, all over. We were told that the favorite weekend anchorage for the local boaters is off Elliott Key and was that ever true. There must have been a hundred boats anchored along the island as we went by at midday and many more were making their way there.

We're sharing the Pumpkin Key anchorage with a mega yacht on one side and a small motorboat on the other. The mega yachties spent the late afternoon riding jet skis and lounging in the top deck hot tub while the motorboaters fished and snorkeled. And what did we do? Ann did a little sewing and I took a nap. Are we fun people or what?

Tomorrow we are going through Angelfish Creek out into the Hawk Channel and then over to Rodriguez Key for the night. Along the way we hope to stop at the Molasses Reef for a little snorkeling.

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Who: John and Ann Barton (and Sarah, part time)
Port: San Antonio, Texas
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