Day 22. Sunday March 14.
We had been waiting for a break in the weather that would allow us to run outside and use Hawk’s Channel from Marathon to Key West. Using the inside route through Florida Bay would have meant running a longer more northerly route in very shallow waters. Sunday gave us the perfect window to get outside and set course for our next stop in Key West – actually Stock Island.
We were out of the marina by 9am (really 8am since the clocks had sprung forward with US daylight savings time). We went under the span for Seven Mile Bridge and set a waypoint for our entry into Stock island Marina.
We encountered a lot of seagrass along the way. We tried to avoid the thickest parts since we didn’t want to risk sucking any up into our raw water strainers. We had a glorious run west through green and then royal blue waters.
As we entered the marina we requested a fuel stop. They said that we would have to nose in front of the mega yacht Huntress that was tied up to the dock. When we got there and found that the 248 foot yacht left just about enough room for us plus a foot, we declined and said we would get the fuel on our departure! (We later looked at the charter rates for Huntress to find that it was $995,000 per week after expenses!).
We navigated the very skinny marina entrance and fairways into our slip at D8. As we were backing in Sian communicated to Paul over the headsets that we were very close to the sports fisherman in the next slip, and she couldn’t understand why he kept getting closer to it as we backed in! It was only after we had tied up and were closing everything down that we realized that we had a sports fisherman on both sides of us and Paul happened to be facing the one that Sian was not talking about as she guided us in!! We will need to hone our communications skills a bit!
Our washing machine broke!! Sian put a wash in and half way through it stopped and CANCEL came up on the screen. She tried a couple of times with no luck. One symptom was that the water was not draining. Paul dug out the manual (not something he often does mind you!) and could not see anything for a CANCEL message in the troubleshooting section. So he looked at the part covering water not draining. One suggestion was to take a small cover off and uncap a small hose which would let the water drain. We did that, and then Paul tred to remove the drain filter to see if that was blocked, and it wouldn’t slide out. One big tug later out it came – along with a cotton face mask that had somehow found its way in there. Once that was removed and the drain reassembled, the machine ran fine! We knew we had lost a mask in a previous wash and couldn’t for the life of us figure out where it had gone!
Day 23 and 24. Monday, Tuesday March 15 and 16.
Stock island Marina is top class. There is a boutique hotel with restaurants and an oyster bar. Two swimming pools and a DOG PARK!!!They also have a hourly shuttle service to downtown Key West – which we decided to avoid given COVID.
Some cruising friends had recommended El Siboney Cuban restaurant, so we went there for dinner on Monday evening. Each evening we took a glass of wine down to the dog park and chatted to the other owners as the dogs played. On Tuesday we floated in one of the pools, ordered drinks from the bar, and had dinner at the Oyster Bar.
We had seen a DeFever 49 called Trust Me further along the dock from us so Paul looked it up on the DeFever Owners web site to see if they were members, and they were. We stopped by for a short chat with Mike and Jan Winkler.
Our plan was to try and get to the Dry Tortugas if the weather co-operated, and to date it had looked iffy at best. On Tuesday it looked like we could make a run to Marquesas Keys about 20 miles away but probably not the Dry Tortugas which were 70 miles west of Key West.
Sian had bought Paul a Garmin inReach for Christmas 2019 which he never activated or subscribed to since we hadn’t been anywhere since then due to the Pandemic. Since we were going to out of cell coverage Paul now activated it. The inReach is a small cell phone sized satellite enabled communication device. It allows us two-way communication through text no matter where we are in the world and family and friends can locate us anywhere in the world. It also provides the capability to receive regular and marine weather forecasts via satellite and it also has an SOS capability! So with our DSC radio, Personal Locator Beacons, EPIRB, and now the inReach, we feel if we set all of these off in an emergency someone somewhere will take it seriously!
Day 25. Wednesday March 17. St Patrick’s Day!
After Bella’s walk we left Stock Island Marina and headed for the Marquesas. We passed Key West and cruised through the North West Channel. The waters off Key West were busy with party boats, paragliders, and fishing charters. The Coast Guard were also warning mariners to stay away from their vessels that were doing gunnery exercises just off the coast!
We had a pleasant cruise to the north coast of the Marquesas. The wind was from the east so we carried on around to the west and were able to anchor about 300 yards off the beach beside a half dozen other boats – one a catamaran with a bunch of teenagers on board who were having a fine time enjoying the paddle boards and doing summersaults off the top deck! It is quite satisfying seeing kids enjoying boating!
As we approached the island the Coast Guard warned of a “smouldering” vessel floating free north of the Marquesas. We did not see anything, and the next day the Coast Guard communicated that the boat was sunk to the waterline and there was likely debris in the area, mariners should proceed with caution. We put the coordinates of the sunken boat in the chartplotter and we were well away from it. Days later we heard that one of the generators had caused a fire and the folks on board had to take to their tender and were safe. As we sat at anchor a Navy chopper cam over and circled the anchorage. We had heard that the Marquesas is a popular spot for boats coming in from Cuba!
We had a calm and pleasant night on board.
Day 26. Thursday March 18th.
We awoke to a light breeze, and many boats upping anchor and heading further west – towards the Dry Tortugas. Optimistically Paul requested an updated marine forecast on the inReach and based on what we read we decided to also head west!
As we moved further out into the Gulf of Mexico we were amazed at the number of crab/lobster pots we encountered. These folks need to travel 100 mile round trip to harvest their traps. There were literally hundreds of them.
About two hours out there was an almighty roar as two fighter jets went low, and we mean LOW over the top of Sonas. We were the only boat within miles so they were obviously having some fun with us.
As we approached the Dry Tortugas we saw quite a number of masts on the Garden Key anchorage, and quite a number of boats anchored outside the anchorage, so we suspected that the anchorage was full. However we went in and had a look anyway – and found a nice spot to drop the hook, with deep water around us so if the wind changed direction we would not swing aground.
Overall we were very disappointed in the Dry Tortugas. With everything we had read on forums and FaceBook people thought it was awesome. However you can only go on two of the islands – and on Loggerhead you can only walk below the high water mark and dogs are not allowed at all. Fort Jefferson takes up ALL of Garden Key, and dogs are not allowed inside. Any grassy spots are either covered in debris or picnic tables. There is a long beach connecting Garden Key to Bush Key, which looks perfect to run a dog. However it and Bush Key are closed Between January and October due to the nesting bird population. We suspect that those thinking the Tortugas are “great” have never been to the Exumas!
Late in the afternoon wesaw quite a number of crab boats come into the harbor and anchor. So now we know how they manage all of those crab and lobster pots way off the coast. They stay out multiple days and anchor in the Dry Tortugas at night!
Day 27. Friday March 19.
We had originally planned to spend a couple of nights at Garden Key since we had been communicating with other boaters who said it was wonderful.
Basically humans and poochs are extremely restricted. To the extent that it is absolutely NOT worth the fuel to go there. We have heard that these restrictions are a recent thing. The park service may find that it becomes a no-go area for cruisers in the future – and maybe that is what they want. More for environment resource protection, which is fine. Just not for us.
So after one night, we left.
As we were leaving the anchorage we heard a VHF radio call from a lady asking if someone in the anchorage had a dinghy in the water and could help. We were already underway so did not respond. The call came a number of additional times. Once outside the anchorage we noticed a man in a dinghy rowing for all he was worth against the wind and getting nowhere! So we assumed that his engine had quit and this was the call for support. Paul laid on the horn to see if he could raise another cruiser in the anchorage, and repeated it. Finally someone popped their head up to see what the commotion was about and we went close to his boat and explained that someone needed a tow. He jumped into his boat and headed off to the rescue! Not even nine o’clock in the morning and our good deed was done! [see later for an amusing follow up on this!].
We had originally planned on stopping at the Marquesas anchorage on the way back but the weather suggested we continue on to Key West. We didn’t have a slip reservation and didn’t have communications until about 90 minutes out. We finally were able to raise Galleon Marina and snag a slip for one night at $6 a foot! The most we have ever paid for a marina slip!
As we turned towards the marina we heard Securite calls one after another. These were from boats entering and leaving Key West Bight, where our marina was. As we got nearer we saw the amount of commercial and other traffic moving about the narrow bight. So Paul got on the radio and announced our own arrival.
Once tied up Sian took Bella ashore, to find sign after sign asking boaters to take their dogs off the resort! Then once off the resort there was not a single blade of green grass in Key West! There were thousands of people downtown and on the board walks. Party boats were jammed, with very few masks! We were really uncomfortable, so decided to leave the next day.
Day 28. Saturday March 20.
We decided to leave for Marathon rather than spend another day in KW. Our decision was later confirmed when we heard that Miami had been flooded with Spring Breakers and a state of emergency had been declared with road closures and curfews put in place. We felt that Key West should have done the same, it was a zoo!
We still hadn’t decided if we were going to go back through the Keys and Florida’s east coast or go up the west coast, spend some time at Captiva Island before crossing Lake O and back home that way. We were leaning to retracing our tracks through the keys and the east coast when we both got a call from the vaccine hotline. They were booking shots three days out. We had to tell them that we were not home and wouldn’t be until early April. They noted that and promised to call back at a closer date. That made up our minds to take the shorter route home as Sian had a flight coming up at the end of April and having both shots before traveling would be great. So back up through Florida’s east coast was it!
We had hoped to spend a couple of days in Marathon Marina and Resort, but they were full. We also tried Faro who were also full. So we went into Marlin Bay again for a couple of days.
A couple of hours after we tied up a boat came in two down from us. We had spoken to them the last time we were in the marina. We went down to have another chat. And to our surprise they thanked us for “rescuing” the captain when he needed to get a tow back to the mothership back in the Dry Tortugas!! What a very small world!
Week four completed!
Week fours photos below, click on the gallery and either click through them one by one or run a slide show.