07/05/2012, Key West
We are in Key West--its been sooooooo much fun we forgot toi tell you about it--but we will --when we stop tonight to pack up to leave --I think!!
After thought--we didnt leave --prepreping for off shore trip to Dry Tortugas instead. From there we head home off shore to Charolete Harbor -beginning of next week.
Left Fat Deer Key June14th, under 65ft Moser Channel Bridge, going to Boot Key Harbor. We had intended to stop at Pigeon Key Island. Pigeon Key is a tiny 4-acre island which housed the construction work camp for the original bridge. It is now an historic site and you must go to the Visitor's Ctr on land to buy tickets ($12/senior) and take their ferry for a "tour;" hence, we were unable to simply dinghy there on our own (off our boat). We considered making the 5 mile bike ride down the island to the visitors center once we were in the harbor but in 90 degree humid weather we for-went the opportunity to visit. Under the Seven Mile Bridge (the chase scene in the film, True Lies w/Arnold Schwarzenegger, was filmed here) into Boot Key Harbor in Marathon, we went! Marathon was founded by immigrant settlers as a fishing village in the early 1800s. It transformed into a seedy base camp for thousands of railroad workers; a collection of tents, barracks, cottages w/a hospital, a power plant and locomotive repair shops. According to one story, a worker complained, "Building this railroad has become a regular marathon..."hence the name stuck!
Every winter, hundreds of boats from 'up north' converge in Boot Key Harbor. It is the most sheltered bay in the Middle Keys. We decided we would go to a dock at the "Boatsman Sombrero Resort and Marina". I "navigated" Jim toward the docks; however, I brought him close to heading thru some 2 ft shoals!! Fortunately, Jim was quick to recover...and when Boatsman Marina added $15/day more to the $1.75/ft/night, we changed our plan and picked up a mooring ball from the city marina at $22.00 a night. The staff was friendly and accommodating, laundry was fine but shower "stalls" were less than imagined...cement "cubbies" w/a toilet, no ac and not particular clean to my inspection!! Anyway, bikes ashore!! The only road in the Keys is A1A...a major highway not to be taken lightly!! Dangerous to ride on, and more dangerous to cross!! We were told that 25 injuries/deaths had occurred last month alone! At one point in our travels we waited 15 minutes in the heat to get a break in traffic (all four lanes of it)! It was like crossing RT 95! So be it for our touring...however, there were no little boutiques, just occasional strip malls w/major stores (Publix, Kmart, West Marine, etc.)...a disappointment to us. The restaurants that were there were a little too 'local' -"Porkies" Pig Pull outside picnic tables , Seven Mile Bridge Grill outside seating and no air-conditioning. The bars were dives like caves with no windows -65 degrees and smelled like stale beer even from the outside! The only sandy beach in Vaca Key is Sombrero Beach...not easily reached by bike without risking life and limb on A1A! So, we booked a catamaran dive/snorkel trip with Starfish Charters, a short 1 mile bike ride with a bit of a side walk--stayed off A1A. The trip was to Sombrero Light Reef. The light itself is 168' tall built in 1886 once manned by a light keeper and family. The light sits at the edge of the reef in 3-25' of clear water. The keeper had to climb a straight 140' ladder with the oil for the light every night!! Thankfully it has been automated by the Coast Guard today. The harbor of Marathon had Vaca Key on the north side and Boot Key on its' southern exposure. Boot Key itself is no longer accessible by road since the bridge was removed. However it remains the CIA's home to "Radio Marti," a radio station which transmit 'entertainment', music and free world news in Spanish to Castro's Cuba!!
The weather was very hot and humid (90s) every day and things to see and do were limited to travels on A1A so off we went to Bahia Honda on June 17th. A nice sail...winds 15knts w/2-3ft seas. Bahia Honda is a place to kick back, relax and enjoy nature. The ocean facing Sandspur Beach is considered one of the most beautiful in North America. Alas, we didn't get a chance to "test it" for ourselves! After 3 failed anchor attempts, we took our egos, Lady Lady and headed for Big Pine Key. Big Pine Key is one of the largest of the Florida Keys. Neighboring No Name Harbor, Little Torch key and Little Palm Island all share the environment. We decided, after "tolerating" the heat, humidity and anchoring (lack of!) experience, we would treat ourselves to a dock at Little Palm Island. NOT!! Dockage was $4.50/ft w/our 25% Boat US discount! Not a problem....we could instead get a room at the resort (ocean or bay view, what's your choice)...for $795/night!! Oh well onward to anchor in Newfound Harbor. After dropping the 33# Bruce and 100 ft of chain (in a nice spot of sand in 6.5 ft of water!) we were secure--so we thought. Off the boat, tied dinghy to a mangrove tree (Fl doesn't seem to have "dinghy docks" for those of us not at a marina!!) and on to Big Pine key. Still have an A1A but here it's two lanes with a posted speed limit of 45 mph and not as Conch-ie as Marathon.
To our south, 10,000ft in the air, is "Fat Albert," the US Government's Tethered Aerostat Radar System blimp. It is used to beam TV Marti signals to Cuba as well as send out over-the-horizon radar signals to detect ships and planes (150 miles out) for drug interdiction and monitoring boats of Cuban refugees. Pretty awesome! The Key is home to the Nat'l Key Deer Refuge. Key deer are small...about the size of a large dog...and roam pretty independently throughout the Key-we saw many on our bike travels.. Back to the boat about mid afternoon ...Big Pine Key was much more "remote" than Marathon. However when we got back on board Lady Lady she had dragged a good 60ft...so out goes another 100ft of chain on the Bruce Anchor. Close monitoring of our holding showed we were still dragging a little bit. Jim added a second "sand anchor"-Fortress FX 16 w/20' chain and 100' line at a 45 degree angle to windward. The winds picked up to 30kts after sunset. We discovered we're still dragging about 10' per hour. Given enough time we would be on the lee shore and so we spent the night wide awake keeping an eye on the dragging!! Thought about re-anchoring -but man is it dark out here! By first light at 5:45 am in the morning...clouds were breaking...we had rain, wind and we had dragged a total of 500ft!! The projected forecast was for the same weather for the next 3-5 days!(look at the weather channel concerning a tropical wave /low over the keys). After much 'discussion', of getting underway or re-anchoring and staying (hopping the anchors would not drag again), we decided to take our chances...pulled up both anchors. They had a "ball" of fine sand w/sea grass and mangrove roots embedded around the flukes--we weren't really anchored at all, just dragging a 'mud ball of a stone' through the mashed potato like bottom. Knowing that re-anchoring in that same bottom would result in another set of sleepless nights for the next several days we set off for Boca Chica NAS for a dock!! Under way at 6:30 set sail w/jib (85%), 25 kts of wind and 4-6 ft short swells with some white horses in the Hawk Channel!! What a sleigh ride!! We pulled into the Boca Chica NAS channel 3 hours and-15 minutes later as the very black clouds followed us in, w/torrential rain and wind! ! Thank you Jim...for all your years of sailing experience and in the Coast Guard and thank you Dede for being willing to venture out into 25 kt winds and 6' seas!! (oh! did I mention it gusted to 35 and the bigger waves were more like 8')!!
We are safely at a dock (albeit some large barracuda swimming around!!) at a very nice, clean Navy base. We are a few miles from downtown Key West and have decided to sit right here until this weather front passes. We meet up w/Fr Bob at The Galleon in Key West on July 2nd...then to head for The Dry Tortugas after the 4th. We continue to have "tropical bands". ...projected for the next several days. Rented a car and off to my brother Phil's house for a "breather" from our vacation.
06/13/2012, Next door to Marathon
Arrived in Islamorada on Monday, June 10th after an arduous trip down the SHALLOW ICW (see previous blog!). Islamorada is comprised of 6 keys. Historians argue where the name came from...the general consensus is it came from the Spanish explorers ("the purple isles"). There are 2 pastimes in Islamorada...fishing and everything else!! Unfortunately, because we had to deal w/shallow waters, we ended up further south than expected...anchoring in Matecumbe Bight...missing Plantation Key, Windley Key, Lignumvitae Key and Indian Key!
We dinghy'd thru a very narrow mangrove creek to get to "Robbie's"...an eclectic fusion of lush tropical plants, schools of tarpon and a crocodile that slithered off the wall! (I thought it was an alligator but was quickly corrected by the locals...). Food was delicious!!
We spent a day dinghying around Lower Matecumbe Key...and strolled into a Boy Scout Camp! What a place for young men to come to camp...ALL the water activities are offered. The outdoor chapel, w/its' Tiki roof, faced the cove, The inscription overhead was pretty awesome..."Not What I Have But What I Do."
Off to a Cuban Restaurant for lunch..."Habanos"...but disappointing in that they were out of EVERYTHING we wanted!!
Back to boat for the night, and u/w Wed, June 13th, to anchor off Duck Key. Underway were remnants of Flagler's dream for a railroad. He began the railroad in 1905, used 286,000 barrels of cement for pilings and arches, and completed it in 1912 at a cost of $27million (a billion dollars today). A few months before his death, the 1st train pulled into Key West w/Flagler riding in his private car. However, the "storm of the century" (Sept, 1935)swept across the Upper Keys w/an 18 foot tidal wave and 200mph winds...destroying Flagler's dream as well as unknown numbers of fatalities.
Left Duck Key (after a dinghy ride and inadvertently "crashing" an all-inclusive resort) and on to Marathon. Marathon is actually the city in Vaca Key. We anchored outside of Fat Deer Key, dinghy'ed into supper (too hot to cook on boat...temp hit 96degrees today w/NO wind!!) and aboard for the night.
Well we were having so much fun activity here in Key Largo haven't had time to blog. So here is a recap of Thursday May 6th to today Monday the 11th. The trip over from Boca Chita was a simple (once we escaped the mosquitoes) follow the channel drill. We anchored up in front of the Marriot Courtyard Hotel Resort complex. Dede, w/her latest "fetish" for history, told me that Key Largo is the largest of the Florida Keys (30 miles from end to end). It originally was called Cayo Largo, or long island, by the Spanish. Film buffs, however, will forever associate it with the classic movie of the 40s...Key Largo, starring Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall. At mm100 is the highly recognizable steamboat from another classic film, The African Queen. We actually saw the steamboat, w/its' RI-built Hereshoff steam engine! After we secured the boat, we dingy'ed in to look around -a collection of outdoor Tiki Bars, pools, dive shops and tee shirt shops as well as a few upscale restaurants but we did not go in for dinner! We also visited Quintessence Dive shop on a recommendation of our friend Robert from Coconut Grove. In our dingy ride we discovered a neat man made (cut straight through the coral) channel that was lined with homes and coral sea walls that looked like a Venetian Cannel-although it lacked the elegance of Italian Architecture--Florida modern...w/Iguanas laying on the walls. The canal led us from the bay side to the lagoon at John Pennicamp Park on the ocean side. We dingy'ed out of the lagoon through a fantastic mangrove cut that brought us to the ocean side and the Hawk Channel. The wind was a little up and the chop was 1-2 so we opted not to venture out 3 miles to go diving! It was still very hot when evening came -winds out of the west - bringing moisture and bugs out of the lower keys and everglades. We spent a 'quiet' and cool night on board below deck with the generator running on the aft deck and us sleeping forward. Around mid night we were awoken by the blue light and serine of the local water police!! They were looking for information concerning a flair sighting. I'm not convinced that they weren't 'just checking' on the anchored boat out front of the resort.
Next day (Friday the 7th) we moved to the Upper Keys Sailing Club and there we met great people. Mary Lou and Tom befriended us and took us out on two separate snorkeling trips into the John Pennicamp Under-water national park. Our first trip out was with Mary on her two jet skiis. Jim learned that driving a jet ski in calm water (in the mangrove canals) is a real blast--BUT THAT OFF SHORE IN A 1-2 FOOT CHOP IT'S A lot OF WORK. When you are heading up a big swell DO-NOT back off the throttle -the jet ski dives down the back side of the wave and down into the face of the next--blue water over the bow for a complete soaking!! Do this once and you learn quick!! Fortunately here in the keys that water is 80 degrees with 92 degree air temp and it is some what welcome relief. The experience gained however says NO Jet Skis in Rhode Island for us. I can't imagine scooting along Narraganset Bay at 50 MPH getting soaked with 68 degree water in 75 degree air BURRR!! We stopped to snorkel on a few shallow reefs. Because of the chop we did not venture out as far as the 'real' diving areas so the snorkeling was only OK. On Saturday Tom and Mary took us out in the Mako to the real dive areas -we picked up a state dive ball and -we had a BALL !! The water was Gin clear, we saw the statue of Christ of the Abyss, tons of purple fan and yellow brain coral. It looked like an Easter Parade of colors. WE also saw-millions of tropical fish, parrot fish etc etc..and turtle! It was like diving in a Dentist Office fish aquarium!! Trivia: Parrot fish are transgender!! The "supermales" are born as females but undergo a hormonal induced sex reversal. As they switch, they become larger and may dominate a harem of initial phase females!! As Ripley says, "believe it or not..."but biologists have confirmed it!! I wonder if it becomes more prevalent as we head to Key West!!
Saturday night we partied with the sailing club crowd after the sailing races. Sunday morning we took a lift from Bob a club member to Publix for some needed food shopping . Once back on board and food all stowed we took our bikes in the early afternoon and had lunch at the Holiday Inn Tiki Bar and pool. We of course brought our bathing suits -and spent the day lounging around the pool while we dragged out our 4 hour lunch! (I think it's called pool "hopping") Sunday night we spent a good deal of time with club members chatting about navigating the shallow (skinny water) water between Key Largo and Marathon. There were many people of the opinion that we could not do an inside passage with a 5'6" draft--actually no one thought we could do it and knew of no one that had!! That really made my night -DAMN. If we could not get down the keys on the inside from here we had to go back to Biscayne Bay and out near Boca Chita!! I do not want to do that and am going to find the "North West Passage"!! Blew off further 'discussion' about the impossibility and went to supper with Mary Lou., As expected she knew the right places to go -- she was fantastic company and knew the hot spots. Ate at a local ocean side "Keys" bar and grill (The Turtle Bar) and key lime pie! Schools of tarpon around the docks, waiting for some morsel of food!
WE made our thank you's to Mary and club members -settled up the bill $$$ and went back to Lady at the end of the dock in 6' of water at high tide!!!!. Back on the boat Jim poured through charts -chart guides, cruising web sites etc etc. E-mailed friends Conrad and Kathy ,that have cruised here years ago, and e-mailed the cruising guide author Mark Doyle!! By 2 am Jim was convinced with a minimum of water in our tanks, the jib out but sheeted home to heal the boat and the dingy hanging on the boom to heal the boat if necessary we COULD DO IT--we WOULD DO IT!!. The charted depths were 5' foot (and one pesky 4.5' area) and so far with the moon phase in 5' charted water we have had closer to 5'-7"(Hell that's 2" of clearance !!) Monday morning bright and early I called USCG to get the latest 'scoop' on the time of tide and height above or below MLW. Well we left at low tide -incoming High and by the time we got to the really shallow parts near buoys 74-through 84 (charted 4' in places) we had an extra 16" total (5'4") which is not quite deep enough but with the sail up and water gone we healed enough to never even scraped bottom once. We anchored in Lower Matacumbe Bight at 3 pm. Took naps till 6 pm--guess it was a little stressful!!! Stay tuned...
We escaped from Boca Chita on the early high moon tide. High tide was at 11:45 but with a full moon the tide was at normal height at 10--so we cast off and ran. Why did we run -did I mention "mosquitoes". These little %$^%^&& were trained by the Paraná Fish of the Amazon! I have never been so bitten or attacked by anything like this!! Bug spray be dammed--long pants and long sleeve shirt hat and scarf--still got me. We put our generator on the dock, filled it with gas and hid below from 6 pm till 9 am! We could not even sit in the screened in cockpit -they found every leaky seam. Boca Chita could have been beautiful but the bugs won. It gave s such a bad experience we avoided all the National Parks along Elliot Key and sailed right down to Key Largo and civilization (eg. bug & mosquito control) we anchored where a new friend (Robert Bondi) from Coconut Grove Sailing Club, recommended right in front of a great dive shop. We anchored for the night ate on board and turned in early. Again it is too hot to be outside or to sleep comfortable -so we started the generator on the aft deck and we slept forward in the salon. In the morning we dingy'd in to the Adams cut that goes from the inside passage to the open Hawk Channel on the south side of the key. Thought we might do a little snorkeling off the dingy but the reef is just a bit too far out for me to feel comfortable heading out there. So we swam off the dingy and then came back through the canal to make reservations at the dive shop. We held off making a reservation --waiting to call after we got settled down the AICW nearer the food stores and shopping centers. We planned to re-anchor but were fortunate to contact the Upper Keys Sailing Club dock master (Guy )and we obtained a dock for a few days----Dock=electricity and electricity = AIR-CONDITIONING!!! WE think we died and went to heaven. A club member stopped by about dinner time and offered to take us snorkeling on her 26 foot Mako dive boat. She has lived here in Key Largo many years is an avid diver and snorkeler and she knows all the good shallow spots for Dede and me to explore. More on all of this in the next installment -tomorrow night.
06/05/2012, Bocia Chita-Biscayne National Park
Left Coconut Grove on a beautiful Sunday morning, June 3rd, after going to St Stephan's Episcopal Church (a nice start to any morning!!). we left w/a fleet of sailboats from the club, going out for a regatta. We had a great sail, southeast, across Biscayne Bay to Key Biscayne. We went past former President Nixon's summer home (where it used to be...has since been torn down but sailors still relish in its' history!)...thought to be the site of the planning for Watergate. We dropped anchor in "No Name Harbor," part of the Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park. The village wraps the northeast quadrant of the open section of the bay...once a sleepy barrier island for snowbirds and artists...today a year round residential community. Space is limited in the harbor...but we found a nice anchorage and were able to go ashore. They have restrooms and laundry facilities...very clean. The restaurant on the wall, Boater's Grill, had great food!! (Again, we have tried just about every eating establishment near us!!). The weather was almost unbearable...91degrees...but we still took our bikes and biked the whole island...stopping along the way to swim and get Jim a new "butt seat" for his bike!! The beaches have been listed in some guides as the 8th most beautiful in the world!
We left Key Biscayne on Tuesday, June 5th and headed south. South of Key Biscayne, we anchored in 8ft of water and dinghyed over to "Stiltsville"...an historical community that literally clings to Biscayne Flats for its life! It is a cluster of structures built on the finger flats of Biscayne Bay, having started out as fishing shacks. There has been ongoing controversy over its' removal as many of the shacks were condemned after hurricanes. However, 7 houses remain, survivors of countless hurricanes. Efforts continue to save the structures of this very unique little community on stilts in the Bay!
Onward to Boca Chita...probably the 1st of the Keys as you head south. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, has 10 historic structures representing typical resort architecture of the 1930s. It was bought by Mark Honeywell of Honeywell Corp in the 1930s. Since he owned all 32 acres, he built a 65ft lighthouse tower, to help his captain bring his yacht in at night. Unfortunately, he did not clear this uncharted aid w/authorities...and he was not allowed to light his lighthouse! He abandoned his dreams for an island homestead when his wife was fatally injured after a fall on the island. It went to 2-more families, and ultimately became part of the Park. The tie-up is free, w/no facilities. The island itself is beautiful...Jim and I went swimming, snorkeling and dinghying...and we are alone on the island!!!!...with the exception of swarms and swarms of bugs!!!!! It is 93degrees, and we have been bitten by mosquitoes and flies...to the extent that we had to lock ourselves below in our boat, and wait until tomorrow am to untie and head to Key Largo!! Stay tuned...