Sunday, December 10, 2006
Hurry Up and Stop!
This time of year there is a regular progression of fronts that descend upon Florida. When they come they bring stiff northern winds and cool temps. Just such a front was due to come late Thursday or early Friday to the Keys. So, we decided that we could safely leave Marco Island on Wednesday afternoon to arrive in Key West Thursday morning (Oh boy...a night sail!) before the front could stir up the waters. So off we went at 3:00 pm on Wednesday. We were a little worried that there might already be rolly conditions and a wind at our back but no. We had a little east breeze on our beam but not enough to make our desired 5 knots. So back to motor sailing which we’ve learned is not that uncommon. There was enough wind to keep both sails mostly filled and we gained some speed by leaving them up. Still, it was a beautiful night. When the moon got high in the sky it had a perfect, giant circle around it. Hmmm...we also had a very nice sun dog to look at right before sun down. Related? Must research this. I think they are but stay tuna! Sue and I broke the night up into 3 hour hunks. I did 6-9 and 12-3 while Sue did 9-12 and 3-6. Three hours is a long time to stare at the compass/GPS. Our autohelm is on the fritz and we are saving for a new one rather than repair the Autohelm 4000. I’ve now had 3 of these things and I’ve never had one work well. Well, that’s another story.
One of the tricky parts about sailing at night is trying to dodge the crab pots! As we left Marco Island they were pretty thick. We hoped that they would thin out as we progressed south and they did but they never did really go away. I didn’t want to imagine me in the dark water trying to cut loose a crab pot in the middle of the ocean. I could imagine Sue doing it though. She must have imagined it as well since she spent over an hour laying on the bow sweeping a beam light across the dark horizon hoping to spot the pots before our propeller did! She finally returned to the cockpit when the moon rose high enough to shed some light on the problem. We couldn’t believe that we were still seeing (thought barely) crab pots in over 50 feet of water.
As we had planned we reached G1, the green bell marking the entrance to the north west channel that leads to Key West, at 0730 on Thursday. All night there had been a light on the western horizon that we had been keeping our eye on. (In fact it was the only thing to look at on the entire horizon. Love those night sails.) As we approached G1 so did he and he was a tug pulling 2 barges like a two car train. It looked like we were going to arrive together so we jibed and more or less fell in behind him. Once in the channel proper we actually got some real wind so we FINALLY got to turn off the engine for a very nice arrival into Key West under pure sail as it should be.
Once we rounded sunset key there was the usual busy harbor of Key West. A giant cruise ship was docking, the coast guard was out in force, boats coming and going. Neat. Now’s a good time to drop the sails. Start the engine! Nothing...no whine no chug no nothing. This engine just ran all night...16 hours! Well, we are almost used to this sort of thing. We did roll up the Genoa and Sue sailed us up and back a bit on the main only while I crawled into the engine room. Just have to jump the starter motor with a pair of pliers. I hate this because even though you don’t want to you always jump when you make that sparky connection (and sometimes yelp like a lady . . . but not me.). Once I jumped and put my knee into the fins of the alternator. That was bad. Well, she started right up and this is a real puzzle.
The puzzle... If you follow the wires away from the starter motor you find an external solenoid, key switch, and push button start. All of those things have been replaced so I’m at a loss (for now) as to why jumping around these things even helps. I can’t even make it be bad...it just does this sometimes which is always the hardest problem to track down. Any hints/ideas would be appreciated.
Back underway we dropped the main and headed for Conch Marina. Usually after a long sail we are tired and just want to get the hook down and take naps. What happens then is a couple of days later you find yourself saying things like, “Boy we should have stopped for fuel or water or pump out or all of those. . . “ and then you don’t feel like hauling up the anchor and going through all the gyrations of docking the boat. Remembering this sort of thing we took care of business before anchoring. So, after taking on fuel (24 gallons) and fresh water we turned north to the anchor field just west of Flemming Key. Fairly crowded but always room for one more boat.
Knowing that the wind was going to come ripping out of the north I wanted to set my all chain anchor, the CQR, to windward. It’s is tricky here because the wind was north but the tidal current was flowing from the south. This means that as we backed downwind the boat would try to turn to point up current! Well, with a couple of tries, a little swearing, and a promised lashing, we finally got her set. Because of the reversing current we wanted to anchor “Bahamian style”. This means you put two anchors out 180 degrees apart with the boat in the middle. This way as the current reverses the boat only swings in a little circle instead of a big circle. I tie a ribbon to the chain so I can tell where I was. The idea is to let out more chain as we back further down wind. I don’t want to disturb the anchor I’ve already set. Ideally I’d double the amount of chain out and then drop the second hook. Then when I go back upwind and reel in this chain to the ribbon I’ll know the boat is in the middle of the two anchors. This worked pretty well. I probably have 160 degrees (180 is an ideal) and both anchors set well.
As the wind came up on our first night I thought I would have been smarter to set both anchors to windward in a V shape. The current is not able to dominate the wind right now so we are not making any circles. If the wind gets real strong I’d feel better having that second anchor holding me in place rather then trailing off down wind. Upon watching the two rodes though I think this is ok. They both stay tight and we are basically rock still in this position.
We could hear and feel the wind start to come up that first night. In the morning it was blowing a good 20 knots and gusting to 25. Anchors are holding well but we neglected to launch the dingy and mount the motor when things were calm. Now we are in 2-3 foot seas and no way am I going to head down the ladder with the motor in those conditions. Looks like we’ll be aboard for awhile. . .
Still aboard in Key West
Yes we are still aboard in Key West. Not a bad place to be at all. But there is nothing still about the Key West anchorage we’re on. Today is Saturday. The winds are still in the mid-20’s gusting to 30s and the waves are too high and rolly to launch the dingy much less to lower the motor onto it. We wouldn’t be comfortable leaving the boat in these conditions anyway. Yesterday we noticed a nearby sailboat was slipping from its anchorage. There is nobody aboard and luckily the anchor reset itself though far away from the anchorage field avoiding going out to sea. Go ashore and worry about our boat dragging anchor? No Thank You.
So we are still aboard in Key West. Although we haven’t set foot ashore since arriving Thursday morning (not counting Scott paying for our fuel at the marina and picking up a much deserved 6 pack to go). So why did we leave Marco Island 3 days ago knowing that a cold front was coming through and would last several days? Hmmmmm. Well it was a trade off. Scott has been champing at the bit ever since leaving Ft. Myers Beach (this was the most recent champing anyway) and I don’t think he or I would have survived sitting on anchor in Marco Island for another week waiting for weather to change.
So we both decided that moving on to Key West was the best. We were excited to get here again. What’s not to like about Key West. We are Still aboard in Key West although most likely it will be 2 more days until we are able to comfortably go ashore. (I haven’t been off this boat since Tuesday afternoon. If we don’t get ashore until Monday it will be a full week of only 40’ Enee for me.) But I’m okay with waiting. I spend much time in the cockpit watching the dolphins (you can actually see them under water here) reading, writing, sodukoing. And listening to the next new sound that these intense winds and waves bring to our boat. So far everything has been identifiable and nothing has broken.
Still in Key West and Duvall street is calling our names. Watch out when shore leave arrives!
A final note from Scott
A book deal has finally come through with a publisher out east. We’ll be staying in Key West for about a month while I (hopefully) finish the book. The working title is “Sailing Through Physics” but that will probably change. The book is about all the interesting (really!) connections between sailing, maintaining a boat and just being on the ocean with the basic physical laws of nature. I hope it is interesting, entertaining and speled corectly and that all of you buy a copy (or two!) when it comes out next fall! Look for it right here.