Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Life in Boot Key Harbor

We have been in Boot Key Harbor since November 24. I have had a hard time getting motivated to write in the blog. We have been very busy with social activities. This place has been a big surprise. There is a social event or two almost every day. It is the holiday season, so much of it is related to the season, but it is obvious these are very social people. We have had an easy time getting involved as the cruisers are all very open to new people. I guess that is just the nature of this transient lifestyle.

This entry will be a series of photos that will show some of our activities while we have been here.

Beautiful moon rise over the harbor
We had a lighted boat parade in the harbor. We invited some friends over to our boat and we sat and watched the show. All were very impressive.

We made a trip with new friends to Key West. It was a fun day.
We did get out for one day sail on December 7. We had a great sail with winds of 15-18 knots. It was our first time we have sailed in the Atlantic Ocean.

We had a nice happy hour with our new friends Dave And Sue at the Sunset Grill

Sunset at Sunset Grill
Our second trip to Key West was to see an old Friend. I have know Rich for 40 years.
We watched this beautiful sunset from Mallory Square.
Our third trip to Key west was to see the new Star Wars movie and to go to Christmas Eve Mass at the Basilica. They were having a children's Christmas Pageant. It was packed, but beautiful.

We finished off our Christmas Day with a lighted dingy parade. We had a very interesting Christmas. 
We will finish this off with a rainbow over the Harbor.
We are planning to stay here in Marathon until mid January. I will talk about our future plans in my next entry. Happy New Year to all!

Friday, December 20, 2019

Real time update and Our First Week in Marathon

We have been in Marathon since November 25. We have only moved off of our mooring once to go out on a day sail. We are currently in a Gale Warning. The wind is blowing over 35 knots outside of the harbor. They are seeing seas with 10 foot waves. We are in this nice protected harbor and we have seen no more than 2 foot waves, but we are still seeing winds of close to 30 knots. I have been checking our mooring lines on a regular basis and all looks good.  We have been stuck on the boat for two days and it looks like it is going to stay very windy for two more days. We could get the dingy down and go ashore, but it would be a wet ride. We have been reading, playing games and keeping up on the events of the day on line and on our VHF radio. We will see how long we can last. The good news is that we have plenty of food and water. Our solar system and wind generator are producing plenty of power. I am really glad that I was able to get the wind generator fixed. With this much wind it is doing a fantastic job 24 hours per day. I will tell that story in a coming entry.  So for now, all is good, so let's go back to our arrival here in Marathon.

After getting checked in, we made contact with our former slip neighbors, Dave and Janice that are here in the harbor. We went to dinner in a restaurant for just the second time since we left Palmetto 3 and a half weeks earlier. We compared stories of our trips down and found that we had very different experiences. They had some seriously strong wind and much rougher seas. It was a fun evening and a beautiful sunset.

Looking from Burdine's back up the channel to the Atlantic.
Almost immediately we started to meet other cruisers that are here in the harbor. There is a daily "cruiser net" on channel 68 on the VHF radio. Many tune in to hear announcements and other news of the day. You can also ask for help if needed. It is amazing when someone asks, how quickly the problem is solved by another helpful boater. We heard about the Thanksgiving Pot Luck Dinner and decided to participate. We brought appetizers and a pie for dessert. There were over 100 people at this dinner and we met a number of other cruisers that we now call friends.

This was one of the tables to get food. There was more than enough to go around.

This large building is the office and common area for the marina. They have a library, TV rooms and places to charge your electronics. There are also work areas that can be used to work on projects off of your boat. 
They have a large bathroom and shower house with individual rooms for showers. There is also a laundry.

There is a beach called Sombrero beach that is about a mile dingy ride away. Kim and I took a trip to see what it was like.

This is where we landed our dingy. It seems to be running well and we use it almost every day to get around. 

This Great Egret did not seem to mind that we came for a visit.

Another Kim on a beach picture.
We saw an island about 200 yards off shore and I decided to investigate. It looks like it would be a good place to do some snorkeling. We have been talking about going ever since, but, as of this writing, have not made it. Too much socializing I guess.

Kim claiming this new land as ours for the day. The water was crystal clear with lots of sea life. 
The following day, I agreed to go to a play with Kim. I was looking to pay her back for going on this crazy adventure with me, so we went to see a production of "Greater Tuna", put on at the community theater. Kim enjoyed it, and that is all that I need to say about that.

This picture is proof of me being there and agreeing to attend. 
All kidding aside, it was really pretty funny and I have to admit, I enjoyed it.

Well that is about it for the first week. I will try to break down our activities by week, but we will see how inspired I feel to write about all that we have been doing. In my next entry, I will write about some time in Key West and will show you some of my favorite sunset shots I have ever taken. Thanks for reading!

Sunday, December 15, 2019

We Made It!

We left Little Shark River before the sun rose on November 25th. We had a little over 40 miles to cover to get to Boot Key Harbor and the town of Marathon, Florida. With the shorter days this time of year, we needed to maintain 5 knots all day to reach the harbor by 4 PM.

Boot Key Harbor is a Municipal marina and harbor that is run by the city of Marathon and does not take reservations. Once you have a mooring ball, you can stay as long as you want. We have been told that the harbor starts to fill up around Thanksgiving and it can be difficult to get a mooring ball. Boot Key Harbor is considered to be the most protected anchorage in the Keys. We did not have cell coverage at Little Shark River, so we would have to wait until we got close to Marathon to call the harbor and check to see if they had any mooring balls available. We do not like to not approach a harbor after dark that we have not been to.  Also, the office closes at 5 pm. 

I lifted the anchor is a fairly strong outgoing current. Kim was at the helm and she did great in a very tight anchorage. We were soon on our way with the current helping us maintain over 5 knots out the channel to open water. Once we cleared the channel, we made a turn south and hugged the coast along Cape Sable. We were in about 8 feet of water. We could have gone further off shore to deeper water, but they do not allow crab traps within 3 miles of the shore of the Everglades NP. We took advantage of this and did not have to deal with crab traps for the first few hours of our day. That would soon change.

I guess I was very focused on the goal on this day because I did not shoot any video or take any pictures until the very end of the day.

We were making our longest open water passage of our short sailing career. This passage would be across Florida Bay, which is the water between the Florida mainland and the Keys. At one point we were about 15 miles from land in any direction. 15 miles puts the land over the horizon, so we spent a bit of time without seeing land in any direction. The crazy thing is we were in about 15 feet of water at the deepest point. 

We had about 8 knots of wind right on the beam. That normally would be fine and we sailed at about 4 knots. Unfortunately, that would not work today, so we fired up the motor. We cruised along under full sails at about 6.7 knots with the motor giving us an assist.

One we left the land at Cape Sable, we hit a sea filled with millions of crab traps. It is hard to explain how many of them are out there. It is impossible to use the auto pilot because you are constantly having to steer around and through them. It would be bad to pick one up with the propeller. It would not only stop us, it would also potentially cause some damage to the boat. It was a long and tedious day.

We took turns at the helm and before long we were entering the channel north of the 7 mile Bridge. I called the marina on the phone and was happy to hear they had a mooring ball available for us. We came under the bridge at about 3 PM. We then turned east and went around a reef and back to the inlet to Boot Key Harbor. As we approached the mooring field, we called on the radio and were assigned a ball. It felt great to get hooked up and shut the motor off. WE MADE IT!!

The feeling was awesome. We had been planning to make this trip for over a year. Way before we had purchased this boat. It felt so good to feel secure in our new home for the next month or so. We had sailed about 300 miles in about 3 and a half weeks. We burned about 20 gallons of diesel and the best part is we did almost all of it in open water away from the ICW. We are a sailboat and we really wanted to sail as much of it as we could.

We dropped the dingy and headed to the office to get checked in. It was at this point that we began to experience what this place is all about. We have never felt so welcome. This place is a floating trailer park. A small community that has the players constantly changing. There is a core group that comes here year after year that kind of keeps the place going. I will talk much more about this community in coming entries.

Here is a shot of SHIFT sitting on her mooring.

This is a view of our first sunset out the back.
At first it feels like the boats are close together, but in reality, they all swing with the wind the same way and we really feel like we have privacy.

Lots of neighbors
View over the bow
We have decided to stay here for at least a month. The weather is perfect with highs around 80 and lows around 70 most days. We did see one night at 59, but I do not expect and sympathy from friends up north for that. There is a constant breeze and we love it here.

That is enough for now. I will write more about this place and the community that we are now part of, in coming entries. Enjoy your day and if you find yourself in the Florida Keys this winter, look us up.

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Sail from Indian River Pass to Little Shark River

After a very relaxed day at Indian River Pass, we prepared the boat for sailing the following day. We awoke early to some building swell out of the Southwest. This was the angle that we had the least protection. This caused the boat to rock up and down like a "hobby horse". We left Indian River Pass on November 24, 2019.

We had a forecast of some storms building from the Southwest, but to start the day we had great sailing conditions. 10 knots from the south. We were heading 35 miles to the East Southeast. We were cruising along at 5-6 knots.

Kim tidying up the bow after raising the anchor. 
I did a video update as we left the Indian River anchorage. Kim also got a cool video of a dolphin on the bow.

Click on this link to view video: Update from Sail to Little Shark River

We sailed along for a couple of hours in the great conditions. We then started to see some menacing dark clouds to our southwest. After a while it was clear that they were moving faster than we were and they would soon be upon us. We heard Coast Guard reports on the radio that warned of 18 knot winds with the passing squalls. We decided to be cautious and furled the Genoa and sailed with just a full main and staysail. The squall hit and the wind jumped to 19 knots and the boat healed over a bit more, but still very stable. I sailed along at over 7 knots adjusting with each gust down wind. We were over 3 miles offshore, so we had plenty of sea room to run downwind with the southerly gusts. We were only in about 9 feet of water, but that is the norm for the area along this coast of Florida. We got some rain, but not too bad. It was all over in about 45 minutes and we were left with light winds.

This squall was the first we have faced under sail. It was not a bad one, but we did what we should have done and all went well. I am proud of our progress. This boat is awesome. I am loving SHIFT more and more every day. She takes great care of us.

We sailed on to the mouth of the Little Shark River and motored into the channel. We found a great place to anchor in about 10 feet of water. We had cool breezy conditions and the best part, no bugs!
I got the fishing pole out and caught the largest catfish I have caught, but still nothing to eat.

The biggest Gafftop Sail Catfish I have caught on this trip. About 12 inches long.

Our surroundings at Little Shark River

There were lots of wading birds on the shores around us. Not great shots, but this should help us remember the beautiful place we had all to ourselves.

A Brown Pelican sailing low to the water
A few Great Egrets and some other wading birds 
We had no cellular connection, so we were going off of a weather forecast I had downloaded the day before. They were calling for some 20 knot winds overnight out of the Northwest. This picture shows our protection coming from that direction:

The wind was calm at sunset, but began to build shortly thereafter. We were very comfortable, but very glad we were tucked into this protected spot. The winds built to over 25 knots. We felt the breeze rushing through the rigging, but no swell. We set the anchor alarm and slept well.

We decided that we would make the final push to Marathon in the keys the following day. In my next entry, I will tell the story of our 45 mile crossing of Florida Bay. This would be the farthest we have ever been from land.

Thursday, December 5, 2019

Enjoying Indian River Pass

We arrived at Indian Key Pass on November 22. I was expecting to see a number of other boats in the anchorage, but were delighted when we arrived to find we would have the place all to ourselves. This inlet from the gulf has a well marked channel. We were advised by other boaters to not stay in the main channel. We came in a a few hundred yards to the west of the main channel. This allowed us to be protected from the wakes of boats that were going in and out of the channel by Indian Key. Everglades channel winds up to Everglades City and is used by fisherman and tour boats heading in and out to the gulf. It was such a nice place that we decided to stay two nights.

When we awoke the first morning, we thought about getting the dingy down to explore the islands around us. After breakfast, we decided to just be lazy and stay on the boat to fish. I was on the bow fishing, when I looked up and was very excited to see a Roseate Spoonbill flying overhead. I think this is the first time I had seen one in the wild. Unfortunately, I was unable to take any pictures of this beautiful pink bird. I spent the rest of the day fishing and taking pictures of the wildlife and other activity that surrounded us.

A Brown Pelican in flight

A group of White Pelicans cruising along
We saw this group of Boy Scouts cruise by on a canoe trip. They looked like they were having fun. 
At one point in the day this tour boat came by. I am sure they were looking for dolphins and other wildlife. We saw many dolphins throughout the day. 
I fished all day and caught about 10 fish. Most of them were Gaftop Sail Catfish and none I deemed edible by us. It was still a very enjoyable and restful day. We finished the day with another nice sunset.

A Pelican and a kid on a jet ski came by at sunset. I hope the kid made it back to his family. 
Our perfectly calm anchorage changed dramatically during the night. The wind picked up and shifted to the Southwest. That brought some swell in from the gulf and we spent the night riding a "hobby horse" rocking motion. This made our early waking time easy. In my next entry, I will tell you where we went from Indian Key Pass and how our day went. I will tell you now, unlike this entry, it was pretty exciting.

Saturday, November 30, 2019

Sail from Marco Island to Indian River Pass

After having dinner with Doyle and Darren on November 21, we went back to the boat and were talking about our plans. Kim and I both felt like two days in this urban setting was long enough, so we started preparing to depart the next morning. We were excited for the next part of our trip. We would be heading around the Cape Ramano Shoals that extend about 10 miles out into the Gulf of Mexico at the end of Marco Island. At that point we would be heading almost straight east along the southern coast of Florida. This section of the coast is part of the Everglades National Park, so there is no development. Southwest Florida is mostly developed with houses and condos. We were really looking forward to some peace and quiet. We would not be disappointed.

I recorded a few video updates and stitched them together. You can watch this if you prefer to watch video vs. reading the blog:

Sailing Day from Marco Island to Indian Key Pass

We were up again before sunrise on the 22nd of November. We had a quick breakfast and started the motor to warm it up. Just before I raised anchor, the motor just stopped. I tried to restart it and it would not start. I had changed the Racor fuel filter the day before to make sure that a dirty fuel filter was not the problem with the engine RPM not holding. I had run the engine for a good 20 minutes after changing the filter and the engine ran fine.  I was sure we had some air in the fuel lines, so I followed the fuel bleed procedure that is quite easy on this boat, and did find some air in the fuel line. Once the fuel ran clear, I closed the bleed screw. I then asked Kim to start the motor, and it started right up. OK, not a good way to start the day, but I was glad that happened while we were still at anchor. It was another beautiful morning as we raised the anchor and motored out of Smokehouse Bay.

As we entered the gulf we had some good wind from the east, which meant great sailing conditions. We had wind with almost no swell. We were only going about 4 knots in 8 knots of breeze, but we had all day for the 33 mile trip, so we just kicked back and relaxed. Kim went up on the foredeck to look for dolphins.

A couple shot of us leaving Marco Island behind

Kim on Dolphin watch
As we approached the Cape Romano Shoals the wind dropped off to zero. It was like a huge glassy lake 7 miles out in the Gulf.

With the lack of wind, we fired up the motor and proceeded in the direction of our destination. The calm waters made it easy to stay on course through a narrow and shallow channel through the shoals. I was a bit concerned. I did not want to run aground out there, but thankfully we never saw less than 9 feet and all was good.

I was still fighting the issue of our engine not holding idle, so I found a string and made a cinch knot and that worked well. I was relieved that the problem was in the throttle linkage and not the engine.

That silver lever is the throttle. The rope fix worked perfectly.
Just to finish the story, I took the compass off of the Binnacle the next day and found the tension screw and tightened it up and we are now good to go. No more string needed.

We motored down the coast for about 2.5 hours in the totally calm conditions. We then made the turn for the pass at Indian Key. I was expecting to see other boats in the anchorage, but I would be wrong. We had the place all to ourselves. It was beautiful and quiet. We did see a number of fishing boats coming in and out of the pass heading up to Everglades City, but we were protected from their wake by Indian Key. What a great place.

Our view at Indian Key Pass

Another angle

I got right down to business and got the fishing pole out and immediately started catching fish. It was mostly Gaff topsail Catfish, but it was still fun. 

Fishing at sunset

As the day ended we had one of the best sunsets we have ever had. We had open water all the way to the horizon and that made it even better. 

It was a great way to end this day. We were not sure what we would do next. We had very marginal cell signal, but enough to check and download weather forecasts. It was calm that first night, but what would happen in the next couple of days? Come back to see the next chapter in this adventure.