How do you recognize a cruising boat when you see one? Often the boat will have plenty of extra accoutrements such as water and diesel jugs, lines, wind generator and other visible signs. A cruising boat will have had a multitude of experiences, and those you can’t usually see. We are not easily identified as a cruising boat (especially with Benj aboard) due to lack of visual cues and a new boat. Up until just recently I wasn’t feeling as though we’d had the full and complete cruiser initiation. Our time at Vero Beach was a great start and a pleasant experience.
Our nighttime romp into mangroves at Tarpon Basin, however was not. Surviving that incident relatively unscathed, a lesson learned and pulling together to get ourselves re-anchored, was a milestone for us. To say I was anxious for days, jumpy at every beep and alarm-sounding sound, only tells part of the story. Leaving Tarpon Basin after the winds calmed down was a joyous moment.
First though, we provisioned at a Publix a solid half mile walk from the municipal dock. On the dinghy ride back we detoured through the hidden mangrove tunnel. It’s easy a quarter mile long, with a few branch-outs and a very small pond along the way.
The trip down to Marathon (bonus points if you know where the name came from) was easy with the first third on the ICW and the rest in Hawk Channel, with those white floppy things raised a few miles before the Channel Five bridge. A great sail with that all too seldom event occurring: a stiff breeze and a perfect angle to the wind. Even the screecher was up and we were moving… until the wind died as it seems to do most afternoons.
Filled up with diesel and water, both of which we had to pay for, and headed into the harbor and the municipal marina’s mooring T5. We scored a perfect pickup, first try, which made our bruised egos feel a bit better. Laundry was first on the list as guess what? Benj had brought dirty laundry with him, just like a real college student. The docks and all the buildings were new and very impressive. Check in with Jenny was lovely, although the process felt like we were filling out customs and immigration paperwork.
Early Wed we departed, hoping to stop and stay longer on our way back, and set a course for Boca Grande Key, about 20 miles past (west) of Key West. With one of our best sailing days ever, we were making such great time that Boca Grande was tossed aside for the Marquesas Keys; seven miles further and a better protection from wind and waves, not to mention improved potential for exploration and bird watching. Plus, we’d be closer to the Dry Tortugas, now a mere 42 miles west. The constant dodging of lobster pots gets tiring and with three sets of eyes we have managed not to run over any. Not such a huge deal when the engines aren’t going, but the line could still get caught on the dagger boards or props and we really want to keep preventable problems to a minimum.
The trip to The Dry Tortugas National Park was so-so; mostly motor-sailing and the waves 3-5 ft, but going with us fortunately. The highlight was seeing dolphins wave-jumping.
We anchored in front of Fort Jefferson on Garden Key, the second largest of the seven keys that comprise the Dry Tortugas. Loggerhead is the largest and 2.8 miles west but only daytime anchoring is permitted there. Great snorkeling spots with one right over a wreck just off the beach. The constant wind recently has clouded the water, with visibility good for only 2 feet. Speaking of wind; the pattern for the last 5 days has been for the wind to pick up at night (around 20kts), then fall back to 16kts until dropping to 12kts around 2pm. We have two tiny Keys and a reef that offer some protection from wind and waves, but the wind noise at night makes for a crappy night’s sleep.
Friday, Dec 31- hard to believe that the year is done. Dinghy’d to the fort, have to drag it on to the beach and just got in and registered before the ferry from Key West arrived with 40-50 visitors. The fort is awesome and covers nearly the entire island. Bring your own food and water, and take your trash back with you. Frigate birds dominate the area, but soon, Sooty Terns and Brown Boobys will arrive on Bush Key to nest. Another flying creature, the seaplane, makes several trips to the fort, taxiing right in front of us. We toasted the New Year early with champagne and five Rummy Tile games.
Saturday brought another windy but beautiful day and the guys headed over to Loggerhead Key after lunch when the wind slacked back to 12kts. The bird list received a primo addition in the form of a Peregrine Falcon, spotted flying near the lighthouse.
Sunday, day 85 we bid farewell to the Tortugas to make our way back to Miami via as many good stops as time would allow.
CLICK HERE TO GO TO PHOTO ALBUM- Dry Tortugas are right after Christmas photo