07/30/2012, East Greenwich RI
A little update and summary from Jim & Dede McGuire of S/V Lady Lady regarding our retirement cruise. If you have followed the first leg of the journey from East Greenwich to Jacksonville last fall, you can skip down several pages and pick up at Part II.
Most of the reports I have read in the bulletin have dealt with exotic places from my humble perspective. My wife Dede and I just retired from 30+ year careers and finally had more than two weeks to use the boat. We had long discussed taking our Irwin 38' Center Cockpit sloop south to Florida's west coast trying the snow bird thing with a boat as a home. If we did well with that the plan was/is to try venturing out to the Bahamas and maybe beyond. With that in mind here is a report of a East Coast cruise down to the Keys and up the Florida west coast to Clearwater.
We departed from EGYC on September 21, 2011 and pointed S/V Lady Lady our 1983 Irwin 38' Center Cockpit south towards Florida and our first retirement cruise. Our trip down Long Island Sound was uneventful, but in heavy fog. Between the GPS, a linked pair of Chart Plotters, AIS and radar the trip on the Sound became a 'computer game' -except of course for using every human sense to listen, watch and rely on instinct and experience to guide the way. We took our time and anchored twice in route - Duck Cove west of CT River and Throngs Neck Bridge off USCG station in the south side basin. In clearer weather two days later we passed through NY's Hell Gate at slack water and then rode the ebb down the East River past the NY City sights and sounds. The Brooklyn Bridge, Battery, Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty became great photo ops. Under the Verrazano Narrows Bridge (AIS is fantastic in a commercial harbor) out of the Hudson and down the New Jersey shore to Manasquan. Manasquan inlet is a little tricky with wind and currents, but in good weather and a slack current it is a convenient layover--especially if you have family in the town or know the chief of the USCG Station--even better if you have both!! In overcast and light fog we continued on south to Atlantic City and Cape May. New York to Cape May were our first open water experiences on this journey, so we planned it in short hops. Atlantic City if you tie up on the western side of the harbor is a bit of a walk to the boardwalk and major casinos the near-by 'joints' smelled like stale cigarettes and were a bit rakish. We looked -we we kept our money in our pockets and went out to walk the docks instead. Cape May brought back many memories - gee it was only 45 years ago I was in boot camp right there at the Coast Guard Base! The city has sure changed. It went to blight and ruin (when I was there as I recall) for a short time but is now back in its former South NJ shore glory and prices!! The Cape May Canal with its 56' bridge was a short cut around the cape itself. We need 54'6" so a low tide helped ease our concerns for that trick. The weather had been "iffy" in Cape May all day but a clear sky at 16:00 hr presented an opportunity to get moving through the canal with a low and fair tide. Heading up the Delaware the fair tide in the canal became a fair tide (current) up the Delaware as well. We had a flooding tide however with a strong north wind the ride got very lumpy and at night not comfortable. There is a marginal stop over - a little off the beaten path in 'Bi-Valve" NJ up the Maurice River. We managed to get in there in pitch black darkness and lay over for the evening. The next morning we were able to time the remainder of the Delaware River trip to the C&D canal so we had a favorable current flowing toward the Chesapeake and sailed up to Havre' De Grace. It is a small old city that almost became the nation's capitol except for a few votes. Lots of history, restaurants and ice-cream, great antique shops and duck decoy museum and shops. South from there a few days later we worked our way up into Baltimore, saluted the flag at Ft. McHenry and tied up in the Inner Harbor. Trawler Fest was coming the next few days but we squeezed in for two days before the big event. From Baltimore we sailed further down the bay to visit grand kids and family up the Magothy River and Annapolis area. Just by good fortune we were there right in time for the Sail Boat Show, so with family car we drove to town for the day. When we were sure all the boats had vacated the area we made our way against head winds down the Chesapeake and across to the Eastern shore. We took our time and visited the high spots -St. Michael's, Cambridge, and a few "low spots" Tangier Island and Onancock. The wind was pushing tide up the bay and coves and many docks were several feet under water. We climbed down from boat to the dock and waded to high ground! It was an interesting experience! Wind abated by mid October and we traveled further south to Solomon's Island and on to Norfolk for a few days.
We opted to take the Great Dismal Swamp route on the AICW from mile marker "1" at Hospital Point. Weather was sunny but very cool -well cold -how cold -- we had ice on the deck when we woke at the Dismal Swamp Visitors center!! It was a blessing that I installed a Dickerson Newport heater. We then moved on down to Elizabeth City -yes it is a very friendly cruisers town. Laid over several days to wait for weather window to and rest to cure the cold Jim caught! Cruised south through some very interesting 'swamps' where we saw mangroves and beautiful Spanish moss tree covered banks. Made a long side trip to New Bern to do some engine repairs-(water pump) and Dede flew home from there for a week of R&R from the vacation!!!?? Early November we were back on the AICW heading through North and South Carolina. Spent a unique Thanksgiving Day in Georgetown at a former Slave Church on a plantation and enjoyed dinner at a 'very local' open house for the homeless soul food restaurant--'Aunnies'. It was the only restaurant open in town and we had no 'home' so they said we qualified and made us very welcome! Grits, ham hocks, sweet potato pie and of course Turkey as an afterthought! Dessert was to die for however sweet potato pie, pecan pie and pumpkin pie in case. We left after dinner and spent a quiet night anchored in the marshes. We chose to cross the Savanna River and not go up stream to the big city of Savanna itself--been there done that on business many times in last life! The AICW through Georgia is tricky and a very winding path, hairpin curves and many shallow spots. Playing a rising tide every morning we were able to cover 30 miles a day with at least 6'6" we draw 5'6" loaded -a little nerve racking -but it is soft mud and so no damage done if we touched. Found a great anchorage at Fort Frederica, dingy ashore and visited the old Oglethorpe pre revolutionary war fort. Just outside the gates of the National Park (fort) we happened into a free concert with select members from 15 church choirs from the city of St. Simons performing The Messiah at the church across the street--fantastic music event!! When concert was over a moonless night had fallen. We walked back to dingy in pitch black darkness through a closed Fort Frederica National Park -3/4 mile of 'haunted fort'- another ¼ mile along the river bank to the dingy dock. Owls hooting, various things scrambling in the brush and Spanish moss hanging from trees, occasionally touching your face is spooky to say the least. We found the dock and then found that the 8' tide was 4' out! We somehow managed to extract the dingy from the mud and get back on board Lady Lady--for a thankful night! Next major event was discovering Jekyll Island, a former winter retreat for the J.P. Morgan class of wealthy folks. Stayed a couple of days and dined in what is now a State run public estate, visited a sea turtle hospital, biked around and generally had fun and ate too much. Heading a little further down the ditch we stopped at Cumberland Island, a National Park now where feral horses roam and former mansions are open to the public -under strict supervision of U.S. Park Service Ranger guides. This is the island that Rhode Island's General Nathanial Green was granted for his war efforts and later owned by the Carnegie Family and then given to the U.S. Park Service with conditions of keeping the animals natural to the environment--no veterinarian care allowed. A small part of the island remains as private property. A former estate 'Grayfield' is now an exclusive resort hotel. It is where John Kennedy Jr. married Carlyon Bessette in a very private wedding in a tiny former African Baptist slave church. Leaving this time forgotten paradise we crossed into Florida, visited Amelia Island and the city of Fernandina for a few days as the weather held us against a leeward dock. Christmas season was upon us now and the city had its annual parade and we did some shopping! When we escaped the hold the wind and the lure the stores had on us we moved on to Jacksonville and down deep into the St. John's River to Ortega. The Ortega Yacht Club is where we put S/V Lady Lady up for the winter December 15th and came home for Christmas and the winter skiing season..
Part II-The Florida Adventure: After a bleak ski season we returned to Jacksonville in April and began phase two of our journey south. Florida did not prove to be as new and exciting an experience as the first 1000 miles. There were some exceptions however -St Augustine was a fantastic old city -history galore and so many fine restaurants we had to re-ballast the boat when we were on board! We ate our way through St Augustine! The city mooring field made staying in the opposed current and wind an easy task and we hung out for a week!! On this leg of the journey we visited and stayed at the Titusville city marina. Rented a car and we spent a day at the Kennedy Space Center -(a little depressing now that the shuttle program has ended). The Astronaut Hall of Fame and the Police Museum next door are both well worth visiting -and perhaps more so if you have been to Kennedy before! We drove across the city's new bridge out to the Cape Canaveral National Sea Shore - that must have been a fantastic place to watch a space shuttle launch or landing!! South from there we then visited with friends and relatives along the way in Coco and Vero beaches. Relatives from the west coast drove over to be with us to celebrate Dede's 65th birthday. We also met up with some old sailing friends Tom and Linda of S/V Linda Lee that we had chummed up with back in RI on their trip there three years ago. Hobe Sound Yacht Club gave us a great dock and we were able to spend two days with some retired relatives in the Sunshine State. We departed the Stewart Area and moved down the AICW to West Palm Beach and anchored just inside the inlet so we could scoot out in the morning tide. We chose to go outside at West Palm Beach inlet -to avoid a trove of restricted bridges (28) and then head back in at Ft. Lauderdale. The outside was a lot of fun - got to see the indigo blue of the Gulf Stream. However after a few minutes of oh's and ash's, I noticed the knot meter at 6.5 and the GPS over the ground at 2.5knots! Yes there is a north current!!! We went back near shore and got out of the flow and turned into Ft. Lauderdale. I must admit we are far from die hard sailors--I added a lot of hours to our old Perkins 4-108, however this little leg was a break from the inside motoring and surly few hours of delightful sailing.
In Ft Lauderdale we have friends from many years ago (Dave and Fran) that have a deep water dock about 5 miles up the New River in Ft Lauderdale. That trip was an experience!! Narrow -swift currents-huge yachts on every side of the river almost no room to squeeze two boats past each other with more than 15' beams and many draw bridges with varying traffic restrictions and names significantly different that the ones posted on the chart and guide books. They (some) go by the street name that they are on -so you use a road map to get the bridge name--and they won't open if you call them by another name. Sort of like calling your wife or husband by an ex's first name!! The high point -or more correctly 'low point' was a fixed bridge that carries RT 95 and is charted with 56' of clearance. We arrived at low tide and the tide board showed 53' -we require 54'6" to clear the mast and an additional 18" for VHF antennas! We did a quick U turn against the current and grabbed the first dock at the marina before the bridge. The dock master came down on his golf cart and laughed at our plight!. He let us stay the night (free) until the next low tide which was predicted to be lower -something to do with an open flood gate allowing a major discharge from the Everglades raising the levels. The next morning there was 55'6" at the lowest point as I measured height every 15 minutes around the predicted low. We went for it and only scrapped the antennas along the bridge beams ting ting ting tinkle tinkle. I never knew 8 lanes of bridge could be soooo wide. The bridge crosses at a 45 degree angle making it and even wider passage! On the other side of the highway bridge there is a railroad bridge (usually open -thankfully it was) but it is skinny I swear it's no more than 20' wide and you're in a turn as you approach it. What I am still amazed at is the huge yachts on that end of the river--how the hell they get through there was beyond me. We made it to our friends dock, tied up and went out for a good dinner to celebrate our passage under 95! We needed to be in RI for a wedding so we flew home from the big airport. When we returned to Ft Lauderdale two weeks later the water levels were more normal and we set our sights on getting south into the keys. I also saw how the big boys get up and around in the river -they have forward and stern tugs-bow and stern thruster and lots of chutzpa! From Ft Lauderdale south we opted to stay inside in the AICW in spite of many bridges. The bridges are restricted but someone with common sense has set the opening times so that at about 4-5 knots you can make a fairly completely timed transit. That's good for us sail boaters but a royal pain for the power boaters. We anchored in Maul Lake North Miami, and put the dingy in the following day to visit the beaches. Florida is not cruiser friendly. There have been so many 'bum-boats' anchored there for so long the locals have barricaded their waterfronts so you can't find a place to land a dingy. Even Publix Food Store that boasts a shopping dock is barb wired these days. We managed to foul our dingy propeller with a floating trash bag and drifted into a seawall. The home owner came out to shoo us off but saw the dilemma and helped us with extra sharp knives--I think he had intended to use them to fend us off!! However after meeting us -and with Dede's charm and my half-wit he allowed us to tie the dingy there -cross his property and visit the Hollywood Beach Board Walk. We spent a couple of hours there people watched and had lunch. From Maul Lake we cruised right on past all of Miami Downtown proper and pulled into Coconut Grove. Coconut Grove is a bustling little tourist area -restaurants-boutiques and thieves. Dede parked her bike in front of a store window and went in to look at a blouse I parked my bike 5' away just out of window sight. In the time it took me pull out a credit card and say how pretty the blouse looked on her--my bike got stolen! A very nice guy (Robert Bondi) at the Coconut Grove Sailing Club took pity on us, and the next day brought us bike shopping with his pickup truck. I bought a new Huffy for cheap money then proceeded to spend half as much to get a comfy seat for my boney butt! Coconut Grove is a is part of Greater Miami and has a fantastic rail and bus system. We ventured a day pass and rode the train and buses jut to see the sights. It was beginning to become very hot in Florida and we were looking forward to getting down into the keys proper-and a sea breeze. We crossed Biscayne bay to 'Key Biscayne' and a state park named No-name Harbor. Anchored there for the evening -took bikes ashore. In the early morning we biked the whole length of the key. It got very warm as the day progressed and we stopped in every boutique that had an air-conditioner running!!! We decided it was time to run the Honda Generator to see if the boat air-conditioning would work when on the hook--it did -Thank God! We were hesitant to let it run all night while we slept for fear of carbon monoxide so we cooled the boat down and tried to fall asleep fast!!
The journey down the keys really begins after Key Biscayne and Biscayne Bay. At the first key on the long coral string is Boca Chita. Boca Chita is a National Park that was once upon a time the planned winter retreat of Mr. Honeywell the owner of the Honeywell company. He built the harbor walls out of coral and concrete, many out buildings and walls defining gardens, golf course etc--he never finished the great house because his wife died of a fever. Our experience here was short lived--the mosquitoes decided to have a two course meal--us! We could not get off the boat after 4 pm -clothing even with Off, DEET etc -would be covered with the #$%$@ blood suckers. When you hit them you got blood on your hands and clothing-we ran for cover. We put the generator way up on the bulkhead and retreated to the safety of the cabin never to emerge until high tide to grab the generator and flee in the morning. Did I mention it was getting warm--well there it was getting HOT and I swear Honeywell's wife must have contracted Yellow Fever from those damn blood suckers! Hoping to find the real keys and some place that has heard of spraying for mosquitoes we passed another National Park in Biscayne bay and went on to Key Largo. After a long radio and phone discussion with the dock master at the Upper Keys Sailing Club he was able to talk us through the shallows -5'7" -to the end dock. It was an experience moving along that close to the bottom and seeing everything down there -and turning to avoid the various little 'high spots'! The Club had electricity and we were able to plug in to get both air conditioners running to almost really cool the boat off. Club members Mary Lou and Tom befriended us and took us wave running and snorkeling in the John Pennekamp underwater preserve on two separate occasions. The put us right on top of the statue of "Christ of the Abyss". We snorkeled in 30' of water with complete 100' visibility. At dinner in the Club several members scared the hell out of us by telling me that the ICW south of there was not navigable with a draft of more than 4' !! Now that couldn't be -I had planned this trip to be inside and I was not going back up to Biscayne Bay (30 -40 miles) to "mosquito heaven" only to head out to the Hawk Channel and do the outside. I spent hours looking at detail on the charts-checking tides (6 inches +/-) Again my friends in the Coast Guard were able to assure me that with "my experience as a shallow water sailor" and if I lightened the boat and heeled her over a bit -I might make it through the worst spots. We dumped 120 gallons of fresh water had holding tanks pumped dry, rigged a dingy hoist on the boom to haul it up full of water if need be and headed out on a rising tide. We carefully navigated some very shallow waters 5'4" and managed to get safely through without grounding and made our way to Vaca Key. I hated not being able to visit any of the fine marine facilities and towns on Islamorada but the skinny water was just too much to mess with veering out of the 'marked' channel. Although there were several places in that leg of the trip that I went deliberately out of the marked channel to be in deeper water!! Don't ask me why the preferred channel does not follow the deep water -but that's why you follow the chart -the depth sounder and your instincts--and Dede on the bow!!. We anchored off Vacca Key just outside Adams Cut that is a man made cut through the coral of the island itself. It goes through the island from the bay side to the Hawk Channel. We dingyed through the narrow channel with an 8' fixed bridge and did a little swimming and snorkeling in the clear channel waters. The highlight of many cruisers trip into the keys is stopping and staying in Marathon for the winter season. The city of Marathon on Vaca Key has a very extensive mooring field, "commercial grade facilities"- concrete showers and bathrooms that can be washed down with a fire hose. I guess that is necessary for the 600 or so boats that winter over in the mooring field but we found it at best 'functional'. We also did not find it a good town to bike around in -the Overseas Highway route A1A is 4 lanes wide with a 55 MPH speed limit -28 fatalities on the road this year already! Not a place for biking -and it's the only road in town. There are some sections of sidewalk and bike path but they are often blocked with the back of a pickup truck. We did venture out to a dive boat however for a trip out to Sombrero Reef. Again -fantastic visibility -lots of fish and decent corals. In Marathon Harbor after a couple of nights having to run the Honda generator during the early evening to cool the aft cabin a bit before going to bed we decided to head right down to Key West to our reserved dock a week and a half early just so we could plug in and keep cool. Have I mentioned that its HOT in Florida in the summer!? We exited the ICW at the Seven Mile Bridge and took the Hawk Channel route and moved on south for a layover in New Found Harbor. On the way in to the harbor we passed a lovely marina, it was very hot and humid as usual, and we (thinking about plugging in again) called to see if they had room for us. The marina is the Little Palm Island Resort -it caters to the rich and famous in the 'season'. The only access to it is by private launch or your own personal yacht. However seeing it was off season and the 'Yacht' docks were empty for a mere $4.50 a foot we were welcome to use the dock. The resort itself -was still negotiable -but a room with the dockage discount could be had for $750 a night plus of course valet and meal expenses. We anchored out up in the harbor!
Anchoring was so difficult in Newfound harbor I damn near went back and paid for the dock! We dropped the hook three times before I felt the least bit secure and even then I set a second anchor out at a 45 degree angle to windward. Here is where we discovered the difficulties of anchoring in soft sand mixed with grass and shells. We dragged all night even with two anchors (16# Fortress set for deep mud on chain with 100' rode and my main 45#CQR Plow on 200' chain!! The bottom was like mashed potatoes! We stood anchor watch all night in 20 knots of breeze and watched the chart plotter track show us sheering 60 degrees between anchors for a while and then dragging 10-20 feet back and resetting for a while. We calculated our drift and our lee shore distance and figured we had about 8 hours before we beached on the lee shore. After a sleepless night and 1000' of dragging and we upped anchors at first light. Both anchors had fouled with a mixture of sea grass, shell and sand that had formed a hard ball on each so that they were not shaped as anchors but dead weights dragging on the sea bed. We were expecting a blow the next three days and knew we could not stay there anchored like that. Our pocketbook knew we could not-would rather not afford the Resort! We headed out into the Hawk Chanel at 7:00 am with 20-25 knots out of the east with 3-5 foot seas--not all of that bad. By 9:30 it had built to 25-35 and we were running with just a 60% jib before 6-8' white caps at 7-8 knots. Dede has acquired sea legs earlier in our trip up in the Chesapeake. Six months ago seas and wind half of this had her a little quaky--now she went below and fixed breakfast!! It was just a little under four hours and we made our way to the Boca Chcia entrance channel to the Naval Air Station just as the skies opened up and the thunder and lightning raked the skies. . Fortunately it is the off season and there was dock space available a head of our allotted reservation time-a little crash and bash but no lost fingers or toes awe tied up (10:30 docked 6/19/2012) and plugged in -did I mention it was still HOT! .. We hunkered down with a tropical 'thing' bringing bands of rain and gusty wind that was predicted to last into the end of next week. We were really considering calling it a bust and leaving the boat on a mooring here and heading home! We decided to at least stay a few days till wx passed. The naval air station base Boca Chcia is about 5 miles from Key West itself so we rented a car and spent a couple of days driving into downtown Key West. I had made contact with the 'Seven Seas Cruising Association" SSCA Key West Ambassadors Evan and Karen so we met them for lunch to say hello. They were wonderful to us telling us all the sights to see arraigning for some great discounts and other invaluable benefits. They convinced us to stay a while and enjoy the time we had in Key West. They explained there was a lot of fun stuff to do and running home because of weather was 'dumb' to put it bluntly. The heat could be overcome with the air-conditioned car and boat and most of shops in KW had air-conditioning so we could hide out shopping!! We listened -slowed down and began to enjoy the 'stay'. There are several related naval bases in this area so we hit the other military facilities for haircuts and provisions. We found that we could leave our bikes at the Truman Annex Naval Base -drive in with the car, park the car there then bikes around downtown Key West. Except for the heavy rain this might have been fun--but it wore thin in a couple of days so we accepted our brother Phil's offer to buy us dinner Friday night (6/22/12) in Clearwater Beach at the YC where the weather was warm and sunny! I never realized just how far Key West is from the Clearwater Area!! You know as the crow flies Key West it's only 160 miles--however by road its all the way back up the keys A1A to Miami across the Tamami Alligator Alley and up Rt 75 on the west coast- 10-1/2 hours. We arrived in time for dinner at 7:30 but drove most of the trip in the rain.... It followed us !! The rain also brought wind and the tropical 'thing' we ran from in Newfound Harbor had now became Tropical Storm Debby that hung out in the Gulf of Mexico for 5 more days. At Phil and Carols' we sat under tornado watches for a few hours and had the joy of seeing 18" of rain fall in 6 hours! Talk about street flooding and Florida rain wow !!-very glad we were snuggled down in a nice Florida hurricane proofed home with family and friends. I worried a bit about Lady, we had tied her well but we did not secure her for a full fledged tropical whammy! We saw that the storm was moving finally (love the Weather channel) in a northerly direction so we headed south back to the boat in Key West. On the trip back we were fortunate to be able to re-unite with new friends Mary Lou and Tom for dinner and an overnight rest. You meet the nicest people when you're cruising and take the time to be pleasant to those you meet.
Back at the Naval Station Boca Chcia (6/26/12) we found Lady in good shape but were told by our dock neighbors that it got a bit stormy and waves on the stern made being on board their boat VERY uncomfortable--we would have been ashore in the car! Back in Key West we entertained ourselves with visiting base exchanges, restaurants, boutiques, crashing hotel pools and exploring Navy Bases. We followed Evan and Karen's suggestions and had a great time-in spite of un-godly heat! The main reason for our trip and the late season timing to KW and being there in July was to meet our dear friend Capt., Fr. Bob and his wife PT--they arrived July 3rd and we hooked up for dinner. For July 4th & 5th we spent some fun filled days in KW with Fr. Bob. PT and their crew Josh and did final weather checks (at NOAA office in person) for our trip out to the Dry Tortugas. On July 6th we got under way for the Dry's at 6:30 am -Arrived at Ft. Jefferson anchorage at 17:30 and I had the usual anchoring problems. Finally found a real sandy spot and got the Plow to hold -but still set the Fortress off at 45 degrees to windward. The Dry Tortugas were well worth the effort to get here. We had a bit of trepidation with the passage and the remoteness but all in all with a fair 4 day weather window it worked well. The ranger station there also has internet links to the National Weather Service for updates. We took the dingy to Fort Jefferson on Garden and also over to Logger Head Key which is Key about a 1 ½ miles to the west. Snorkeling all around the Fort on Garden Key was very good. Snorkeling on the western side of Loggerhead Key was pristine. Corals, fishes 150' foot visibility 85 degree water; this is what it was all for! Monday July 9th got underway for direct 15 degree 120 mile rumbline to Boca Grande just north of Fort Meyers on the Florida west coast. This was a beautiful and easy sail with clear skies, indigo blue blue water -this is where the Gulf Stream water must come from!! Maybe that's why they call it the Gulf Stream!!?? Funny the things that make sense when you live them! Things went very well through the day and through Jims 18:00 to Midnight watch. Dede came on deck at midnight to do her graveyard watch; she was able to get in a good four hour nap during Jim's watch and was ready to go. Just after about 30 minutes into her watch he saw lots "I mean LOTS" of lightning off in East and West. By 1 am Jim was up and got radar fix on the storm cells. Dusting off then using every bit of prior memory of the plotting of relative motion, managed to run through the cells as they and we moved in a serpentine path in open ocean (gulf).. By 3:30 we were again free of the storms but Fr. Bob eight miles to our stern got hammered with all of them. Well actually he got into one big one. I understand as the 'bunch" I threaded through congealed into a big bundle! At 7 am Lady Lady anchored inside of the point at Boca Grande ISLAND (anchor held first try) and waited for our companions in Tiahani. I got the two hours of nap that I desperately needed. When Fr. Bob arrived we took the easy way out OF navigating and followed him up the channel -through the bridges to Palm Island Marina. Palm Island is in a location near South Cove where I have looked at land in FL for ten years. Started to go for a bike ride but the skies opened up with rain and lightning so we stopped to hide out at strip mall. There was a real-estate agency there soooo we went with a local real-estate agent to see properties. It was raining cats and dogs and it gave us a opportunity to 'ride around' I discovered finally that it would be a nice place to 'live' and 'work' in Florida full time. We are not planning on living and working (definitely not working ) here full time -we were able to finally take South Cove off the radar screen as our FL winter home! This area, although full of potential for future growth and a family life, is just too remote from our idea of Florida with beaches and resort atmosphere -not a residential community. We spent a couple of additional days here with better weather, did pool time, and enjoyed a lovely evening and dinner with Fr. Bob's sister Elise and husband Roger. They have cruised to Hawaii and back so there was much good sailing conversation. We were off to Venice YC on Friday the 13th but a lucky day of fair wind and nice sunshine and we arrived in time for afternoon of pool time and late lunch/dinner. On July 15th we said good bye to our cruising buddies and headed up the coast toward 'home'. We cleared many bridges, crossed Tampa Bay in fine East wind and called it a day when we got as far as Treasure Island YC. Had a delightful evening with brother Phil and his wife Carol and dinner at "Gators' restaurant to celebrate Phil's birthday. . Monday July 16th set sail to Indian Rocks Beach and our final stop at the dock reserved for Lady Lady at Calvary Episcopal Church. On the way we had some serious rain but our final approach to the dock had a sky with a double rainbow -and at its end was our destination. We had found the pot of gold-and our first retirement cruise came to a close 2000 miles from East Greenwich.. WE spent a few very hot days putting Lady to rights after 4 months of continuous on the go sailing. It was more difficult for us that we had expected. The heat of the day meant for us that little could be done much after 10 am on deck and it didn't really cool down at night until well after dark. What should have taken two days took four. I'm sure glad we had Phil's truck (with air) and he and Carol's house with air and a POOL!! Fr Bob arrived back on Thursday July 18the and we were able to spend two great days re-capping the fun times we had shared. We shipped out on Friday July 20th via good old South West Air --flying North East to Rhode Island and home.!
We intend to return to Florida in October after a top down road trip through the Fall Foliage in VT and down the inside route to Florida to spend two months with Lady and the friends and relatives from Florida. Stay tuned......
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.