We have finally made it to the Keys!
While in Clearwater, FL, we got our hydraulic autopilot installed, Mark did most of the work himself, but we needed help from someone who could run and get parts, etc. since we did not have a vehicle. Mark had to really keep on the guy to get him to show up and work as he was Mr. Mom and had to take care of his kids and their issues. Anyway, on March 26, the installation was completed and we were geared up to leave the dock at about 11:00 am as that was high tide. The northern that had blown through dropped the water level about 4 feet making it difficult to get on and off the boat. We left the dock at about 11:15. The first thing we had to do was commission the auto pilot so it would work. We were able to complete the commissioning but had to skip one step because the channel we were in was not wide enough to complete it. We then fueled up and were on our way.
We sailed to Passo Grille, FL and anchored out. As we were sailing we realized the main was caught on itself in the mast roller furling. When we were out about 2 miles from Passo Grille we pulled the main down by hand and dropped it in the salon so we could figure out what was wrong with it. We had a hard time finding the anchorage but finally did. It was a nice sheltered channel. Thank goodness we arrived early enough for Mark to work on the sail and we got it put back up and rolled into the mast and ready to go the next day.
We left by 9:30 the next morning, Thursday, March 28th, headed to Venice to the Fisherman's Wharf to meet up with our friends on Mariah. Before we arrived they contacted us and told us they had made a reservation for us at the Crow's Nest and to meet them there. The inlet to Venice was so rough we thought we might not make it in. We really rolled but made it. We got to the Crow's Nest, but due to the current and the low tide from the cold front, we could not get into the slip that was reserved for us. We went into another one but we were grounded and could only get in half way. The management found us another slip, but by low tide we were sitting on the bottom again. We had planned on staying a night or two as we were tired, but decided at 5 AM, Friday, March 29, that the conditions of the marina were not the best and we were floating so we got up with a beautiful full moon, dropped our lines and headed out. The water was flat and we were able to get out of the Venice Inlet with none of the trouble we had coming in. We had planned on going to Sanibel Island, but changed our mind and headed to the Dry Tortugas. (Another destination crossed off of our bucket list.)
Mariah had planned on leaving by 8:00 am so I texted them that we had left earlier because the conditions at 5:00 AM were perfect and we would meet them on the water. Mariah caught up with us at about 4:30 PM after we spotted them on the horizon and stopped to wait on them. Sailing to the Dry Tortugas was another all night sail. We alternated shifts every 3 hours. The moon however didn't come up until about 11 PM. It is beautiful sailing in the moonlight. We arrived at the Dry Tortugas a little before dawn so we motored around until we felt we had enough light to anchor. The water was absolutely gorgeous. Crystal clear blue. We anchored in the outside anchorage because the wind was supposed to change course, but it was evident in the afternoon that it was not going to change so we moved to the main anchorage that was more protected.
The Dry Torugas is a group of islands and a US National Park that is 70 miles west of Key West. Fort Jefferson is the fort that was built on the island to protect the Gulf of Mexico back in the day. It was also a prison. However, there was no water and the conditions were pretty bad so after a while it was abandoned. For more information, you can check it out on the web. If you are ever in Key West, you can catch a ferry or seaplane for a day trip. It is highly recommended. Snorkeling is one thing offered by the national park service. The water was too cold for us though so we opted not to snorkel. We did go in the water at the beach to test the temperature. That is how we knew it was just too cold. The water had warmed up considerably just now enough for our taste. Check out our pictures of Fort Jefferson and the beautiful water.
On Monday, April 1, 2013 we pulled anchor and left for Key West at 5 AM. We thought we would arrive by 5 PM but it was about 3 PM when we arrived. We moored off of Fleming Key in Garrison Bight which is a mooring field managed by the City Marina. We stayed for 10 days. We took our bicycles in by dinghy. Biking is one of the main modes of transportation on the island. Glad we had them. We went to the lighthouse, the butterfly conservatory, the historic district, and biked all the way around the 5 mile island. We also took a trolley tour which gave us lots of information about Key West. We went in every day to do one thing or another and thoroughly enjoyed our stay except for the wind. Garrison Bight was not that well protected from the wind and the wind blew daily from 15-20 knots.
Friday, April 12, 2013 (my birthday J) we left for Marathon, FL which is in the Middle Keys. We knew from reading and from friends that Marathon was better protected. We arrived about 2:30 and will be here until April 26, weather permitting of course. Everything is more convenient to the harbor here in Marathon. Not as much sightseeing to do but lots of water sports closer by. We can dinghy to the beach, to snorkeling, and to restaurants. We can also swim off the back of the boat as the water is not so rough from the wind. Again, biking is the main mode of transportation here. They have a wonderful bike path, which Key West did not have. Most destinations are convenient; however, a few have been quite some distance, which is okay. Marathon is home of the 7 mile bridge which has been in several movies.
Our next travels will take us up the east coast of Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina with our final destination being New Bern, North Carolina to wait out the hurricane season.