Atlantic Dolphins!

On our first ocean leg, from Beaufort North Carolina to Charleston South Carolina, we had dolphins travel with us for quite some time…a lot of dolphins! I finally have the video compressed enough to share online..so here it is!

“Shells Sink, Dreams Float. Life’s Good On Our Boat!”

Loggerhead Key

Loggerhead Key was named for the abundance of loggerhead sea turtles in the area (the Dry Tortugas support the largest green and loggerhead turtle nesting grounds in the Florida Keys). Mariners were often attracted to the area, looking for the natural food source that the turtles provided. However, the shoals and reefs here proved dangerous. Proximity to the nearby shipping lanes of the Gulf of Mexico, make the area a natural “ship trap,” and more than 250 shipwrecks have been documented in the waters surrounding the Dry Tortugas.

When the United States acquired Florida from Spain, they were immediately interested in constructing a lighthouse in the tortugas, to protect mariners in the areas. The original lighthouse built was on Garden Key, the site of Fort Jefferson. It was later replaced by the current iron light that sits on the top of Fort Jefferson. Iron was used because bricks could shatter if hit by enemy fire, and send debris flying into the fort.

Unfortunately, it proved to be too short, too dim and too far from other reefs, so construction began on a taller lighthouse on Loggerhead Key. This light could be seen 53 miles away, and in the 1930s, it was the brightest light in North America.

Significant scientific research was conducted on Loggerhead Key, by the Laboratory for Marine Ecology, which was operated by the Carnegie Institute. The lab studied the reefs and waters of the tortugas from 1905-1939. They took the first underwater black and white, and color photography, and performed the first heart transplant…..on a nurse shark! The lab was destroyed by hurricanes over the years, but there is still a monument to the it’s founder on Loggerhead Key.

The lighthouse was maintained by light keepers through World War II, when the duty was transferred to the US Coast Guard. A single light keeper would stay on site for six weeks, and then have a three weeks off ashore. It’s noted that their main complaints were..lack of women, having to cook for themselves and boredom from isolation. In 1982, the light was fully automated, and all Coast Guard staff left the island.

We have been enjoying the view of the lighthouse, flanked by palm trees, while anchored here.

“Shells Sink, Dreams Float. Life’s Good On Our Boat!”

Cuban Refugees At Fort Jefferson

The fort sees an average of 400 Cuban refugees a year. Since the nearest coast guard is some 70 miles away in Key West, and therefore unable to intercept them, many refugees head for the Dry Tortugas to make their landfall. Technically, it is illegal to enter the US this way, but under a policy established in 1995, having “one dry foot” on US soil allows a Cuban migrant to legally stay and seek citizenship. After talks with the Cuban government, the US agreed that it would stop admitting Cubans found at sea.

They arrive in makeshift boats, called balsa cubanas, or chugs.

Nice rudder!

Scott was amazed at what is used to build an hold them together. Some use cement for caulk..

And this one appears to have used large plastic tubes, filled with shit!!..

The boats carry up to 33 or more people!

 

The rangers here at the fort usually see the boats on the horizon, call the coast guard, and then keep an eye as to where the refugees land. Most often, the boats land on the nearby, small keys. Once they are brought to the fort, the refugees are given food, clothes and water, and a place to stay until the coast guard comes to collect them. On occasion, the coast guard is too busy to come right away, or sea conditions are too rough, so they arrive days later. Refugees from other countries who may have traveled with Cubans are sent back to their home country, as the US only extends this policy to Cuban refugees. It seems likely that in the near future, this whole procedure will be a thing of the past!

“Shells Sink, Dreams Float. Life’s Good On Our Boat!”

Fort Jefferson

Fort Jefferson is visited every day by a large, fast ferry from Key West. It travels roughly 2.5 hours to get here, and brings daily tourists as well as those who wish to camp on the island. Visitors can tour and explore the fort, walk the beaches, and snorkel the waters. While the ferry is here it is part of the fort, so all who are here (boater, park rangers, etc.) have use of it (restrooms, etc., in place of the composting ones by the campsites). You are also welcome to pay for lunch aboard, sandwiches, salads, chips, cookies, etc. We have also heard that you can purchase bags of ice from the ferry…a handy perk!

Scott and I have spent several days ashore, touring and learning about the fort. National Park ranger Mike is very, very knowledgeable and informative on many subjects related to the fort. Here are a few highlights that we learned from him:

The US government built Fort Jefferson on Garden Key because of its natural deep water harbor, protected by the surrounding shoals. They knew that controlling navigation to the Gulf of Mexico, and protecting Atlantic-bound Mississippi River trade would be possible by fortifying the tortugas. It was the most remote, but still a vital link in a chain of coastal forts that stretched from Maine to California.

Construction of the fort started in 1846, and went on for 30 years but was never finished. Supply problems and the Civil War delayed construction, and it became obsolete before it was completed. Still, it is the largest all-masonry fort in the United States and features 2,000 arches. The lower two tiers are made up of tan bricks that came from brickyards near Pensacola. After Florida left the Union, red bricks for the fort’s top wall were shipped 2,000 miles from Maine. In all, over 16 million bricks were used in construction of the fort. Scott can’t stop commenting on how many bricks there are, and the sheer size of it all. He says that if he were a brick layer here, he’d kill himself!

Twenty percent of the workers constructing the fort were enslaved African Americans, hired from owners in Key West. Owners were typically paid 20.00 a month per slave. The slaves were given some of the more difficult tasks, including collecting and transporting coral rock from nearby islands. The rock was the main ingredient in making coral concrete for construction of the fort.

At its fullest, the fort was home to nearly 2,000 people, made up of soldiers and some of their families; prisoners, who also worked on the ongoing construction of the fort; slaves, who worked along with the prisoners and some of their families, who worked at cooking or doing laundry. There were also shops that sold goods that were shipped in from Key West, as well as those who provided services.

The fort was set up to support 1,500 people for a year. Food consisted of mostly salted meats (including salt pork that often still had hairs on it…bleh!) and dry biscuits. Cisterns were built to collect rainwater, that was filtered through sand. However, the weight of the fort caused it to settle, producing cracks in the bricks along the walls and in the cisterns, contaminating the water. Sections of the fort were intentionally never finished, for fear that additional weight would cause further settling and cracking.

During the Civil War, the fort served as a Union military prison for captured deserters. Some of the reasons for their arrest are quite amusing. One man received a sentence for being a straggler, and another for the charge of “worthlessness!”

Among the prisoners were four men who were convicted of being involved in the assassination of President Lincoln, one of whom was Dr. Samuel Mudd (Dr. Mudd set the broken leg of John Wilks booth, who shot Lincoln). When yellow fever spread through the fort, the doctor on site fell ill and died. Dr. Mudd stepped in, and treated the sick. Afterward, he remained the fort doctor, and was eventually pardoned and released.

In the 60s, the park rangers took it upon themselves to blow up the enlisted men’s barracks, which had fallen into disrepair. When the government questioned why they would do this, the answer was: “There’s nothing that says we can’t.” As a result of this, the national preservation for historic places was enacted, requiring that those who wish to restore or remodel historic houses/sites to adhere to guidelines.

Today, the rangers work for 10 days, and then have four days off, if they choose, they can catch a ride to Key West on the ferry or the sea plane that makes several trips here a day. There are modern apartments here for them to live in, that have been built into the wall of the fort. They have a water maker on site, and water is stored in a cistern. Electricity is supplied by generator, and gas, food, mail and other supplies come by boat from Key West every few weeks.

Here are more photos of the fort, and tidbits that we learned from Ranger Mike!

Traveling To The Dry Tortugas

We left Key West on a Friday morning. Our weather window wasn’t big enough to make it all the way to Mexico, so we decided to head toward the Dry Tortugas, shaving about ten hours off of the total journey. Fort Jefferson provided a good anchorage for us to wait for another window to continue on to Mexico.

We needed to come into Fort Jefferson with decent daylight to navigate the shallows. Since the days are shorter now, we decided to break the trip there into two days. We traveled three hours to the Marquesas Keys on Friday. The Marquesas Cays are just a few tiny spits of land. We need too much water depth to anchor inside of them, so we stayed on the outside, using them for shelter against the wind.

Early on Saturday morning, we continued on, traveling another 5-6 hours to Fort Jefferson and the Dry Tortugas. Located about 70 miles from Key West, the Dry Tortugas are a cluster of seven islands, made up of coral reefs and sand. With the surrounding reefs and sand, they make up the Dry Tortugas National Park, an area known for birds, marine life and shipwrecks. Fort Jefferson is the central feature here, and I’ll post more about it separately.

The Tortugas were first named Las Tortugas (The Turtles) by Ponce de Leon. Soon after, they read “Dry Tortugas” on mariner’s charts, showing that they offered no fresh water (dry), but plenty of food (turtles). The area became a wildlife refuge in 1908, and was named a national park in 1992.

Dry Tortugas National Park

Speaking of marine life, as we anchored, we were greeted by some of the local Goliath Groupers whole live here. Goliath is correct, they are huge!!!

We first anchored outside of the harbor area. Scott had read that it was still protected by the reef, but offered more room for us to swing.  As the winds kicked up, we took a beating the first day, with Scott even being a bit seasick from the rolling at anchor. After watching numerous fishing boats take better shelter in the harbor, we headed in and found a spot. Scott was nervous, as the area didn’t allow for us to let out as much anchor scope as he would like. Never the less, we set our anchor and settled in to wait for good weather to travel on to Mexico.

Here are some photos of our trip from Key West to the Dry Tortugas.

“Shells Sink, Dreams Float. Life’s Good On Our Boat!”

Our Last Days In Key West

Our last days in Key West were spent provisioning and watching weather, while we prepared to head toward Mexico. We rented a car and headed to Miami, for some serious provisioning.  After stopping at Total Wine liquor store, Target, Walmart, Petsmart, Whole Foods and Dicks Sporting Goods, the car was stuffed full. By the end of the day, we were lowering the back side windows to load things in. I regretted not upgrading to a larger car, as we drove home without being able to see out of the back side or rear windows!

The drive to Miami is 3.5 hours, and we spent the hole day shopping. By the time we arrived back in Key West and unloaded, it was almost midnight, and we were spent. The next day, I headed to the grocery store on Key West, and again filled the car. The boat is now filled to the brim with food and provisions.

We’ve made great use of the storage under our couch. It was originally a sleeper sofa, and Scott removed the “innards,” giving us a ton of space for all kinds of things!

With an evening left before returning the car, we decided to drive out to the theater on the other end of the island and catch the new Star Wars movie…woohoo!! We thought it was great, and it was a treat to take in a movie before leaving the country.

A big, BIG, treat for me, was receiving a cake from home!! I worked for Sugarbakers Cakes, in Catonsville, MD. They make the best cakes that you’ve ever put in your mouth! Since we left, I’ve been eating cake wherever I can, with no luck. So I asked the girls to make some of my favorites and freeze them. My friend Ted then stepped in to ship them overnight to me. Unfortunately, the size of the boxes made them pretty costly, so I chose to only have one sent (peanut butter truffle..yum!) and he kept the other (red velvet fudge..addictive!!).

The cake arrive in perfect condition, still cold and firm! I cut it into slices, shared only a few with friends at the marina, and froze the rest. I’m hoping to make them last as long as I can, as I fear an overnight to Central America will break the bank!

So we were stocked with provisions and cake, and the weather looked good to head as far as the Dry Tortugas. The only thing left to do was to head out for a farewell evening in town. We headed to some of our favorite spots, as well as some new locations. At a new happy hour spot, we met some retired firefighters from Baltimore County, Md…our neck of the woods! They are now living in Key West, and enjoying warmer winters. We learned that we have several friends in common! I have many good friends who are firefighters and paramedics, and started coming to Key West with a group of them 20 years ago, for the Conch Republic Celebration Week.

Here are some photos of our last days here. I have loved our time in Key West, as this island holds a special place in my heart. There are many, many good memories of time spent here with friends over the years. Every time I return, it warms me to wander the streets and visit familiar spots. As I find more great things to see and do, it makes me want to stay even longer the next time we visit! Thank you Key West, for another great time spent…long live the Conch Republic!

“Shells Sink, Dreams Float. Life’s Good On Our Boat!”

Our Key West Favorites

During our stay in Key West, we called the Key West Bight Marina home. The historic harbor here is lined with restaurants and bars that offer great views of the many charter boats, catamarans and schooners and their constant comings and goings.

Just a few blocks off of the bustle of Duval Street, the harbor walk area feels completely different than being along the “main drag.” Sadly, most visitors don’t venture off of Duval. Don’t get me wrong, it offers plenty of fun bars and restaurants to spend time in, and there are days and days of stores for browsing and shopping. However, it’s definitely worth a turn to the right or left. If you have time and spare cash, rent a bike or scooter and explore the many quiet side streets and lanes. There are endless houses to catch your eye, and places to eat and drink in, or tour along the way.

We visited some of our regular spots, and found several new ones. I thought I’d share some of our favorites places to eat and visit.

Happy Hour:

2 Cents Pub:

2 Cents Restaurant & Pub - Key West, FL, United States

 

A relatively new place just off of Duval, and new for us as well. They offer endless bacon during happy hour!

2 Cents Restaurant & Pub - Key West, FL, United States. Free bacon at happy hour?! Yes please

We thoroughly tested this..we kept eating, and it kept coming! You roll dice to determine you drink price: 1 = 1.00. 2 = 2.00, 3 = half price and 4, 5 or 6 = full price. This is good toward any drink or cocktail in the place. We made out pretty well. Our 1.00s balanced out our 4s and such, averaging out to half price drinks and fun along the way. They also offer happy hour snacks.

Half Shell Raw Bar:

Half Shell Raw Bar - Key West, FL, United States. Outside & Eat It Raw Sign

Half Shell Raw Bar - Key West, FL, United States. From The Marina

Located at the far end of the harbor walk, they offer happy hour seven days a week, which is a plus! All types and brands of beer are half price, as are rail drinks, house wines and bar food. It’s a popular spot with locals, so go early for a seat at the bar.

Conch Republic Seafood Company:

Conch Republic Seafood Company - Key West, FL, United States

Along the harbor walk, they offer 2 for 1 beer and rail drinks. Meaning, if you buy one, you have a second one coming for free. You cannot share your free one with a friend, so you’re on your own for both. Outside of happy hour, they make great mojitos! Sadly, I have not been the happiest with their food, so we usually choose to stick to drinks here.

The Lazy Gecko:

Just down from Sloppy Joe’s, they have offer a longer happy hour, from 4-8pm. 2 for 1 beer and rail drinks. They also offer specials each day, and Scott and I are especially fond of Taco Tuesday…cheap tacos and 5.00 margaritas! The music during happy hour is always good, too.

The Smokin’ Tuna:

Another new one for us. Cocktails are 5.00, and they’re not limited to rail (which makes Scott happy!). They don’t skimp on alcohol in their drink.. and, they have COKE!! This is something that very important to Scott. He’s a not a Pepsi person, and we have discovered that Key West is a very, very Pepsi town (apparently, the Coke supplier isn’t reliable, which cannot be profitable for them here). Beer is half price. Happy hour munchies and music are pretty good.

The Boathouse:

Boathouse Bar & Grill - Key West, FL, United States. Love all the flags!

The Boathouse has been around for years, but we just heard of the great happy hour. It took some trying to find the darned place! Located under the Commodore Restaurant, along the harbor walk, it has no outside sign.  As you might imagine, it’s another locals favorite.  All beer and rail drinks half price. The half price food menu is great! We also met some new friends here. Locals by way of Baltimore!

Food and Drink:

Cuban Coffee Queen:

Cuban Coffee Queen - Key West, FL, United States. This place is small but packs a punch awesome pressed breakfast sandwichs on Cuban bread and of course amazing coffee!!!

Scott and I aren’t coffee drinkers, but we found this little place behind the harbor walk, and went there often for their sandwiches and smoothies. However, all of our visitors LOVED their coffee! Our friend Ted even threw away a cup  that he’d purchased somewhere else, and headed back to the Queen for theirs. Go early, or be prepared to be patient. This place is popular, but worth it.

McConnell’s Irish Pub:

 

We watched the Christmas parade from their elevated patio, and loved the Irish nachos! A yummy plate of crispy, homemade potato chips, topped with either chicken or corned beef (who wouldn’t choose corned beef?!?!??) topped with cheese, tomatoes, etc. We dreamed of eating them again, but sadly never had time to go back.

Willy T’s:

Willie T's - Key West, FL, United States. Lotta dollar bills hanging on the ceiling, and other parts of the building.

Easy to spot along Duval, as it is covered in 1.00 bills..covered. We have never eaten here, but love their mojitos. The list of flavors is extensive, and all that we tried were good. Their music is always entertaining….not always the best, but definitely entertaining!

Key West Bait & Tackle:

Our beloved tackle shop! Tucked in near the Half Shell Raw Bar, they have a small indoor and outdoor bar, with friendly people and cheap, cold beer. We made many many stop-ins, on our way out for the night, after running errands or just because.

Onlywood:

Onlywood Pizzeria Trattoria - Key West, FL, United States

The owner was raised in Napoli, Italy. The atmosphere is great. It’s intimate both inside and on the outside patio, but still great for a group of friends to gather and eat. We had pizza all three times that we visited here, and it was great. The pasta dishes looked terrific, but we never had a chance to go back and try them. They only offer beer and wine.

Paradise Pizza:

Paradise Pizza - Key West, FL, United States. Best Pizzeria in the FL Keys !!!

Sadly, Scott and I discovered this place on our last night in town. Located just off of Duval Street, and on our way back to the boat, they have awesome New York-style pizza…and, they’re open daily until 4am!

Santiago’s Bodega:

Santiago's Bodega - Key West, FL, United States

This off-the-beaten-path place came very highly recommended from our slip neighbor, Alex, and it did not disappoint! We went for a holiday dinner, and had a great meal. Their menu is made up of tapas, or small plates that your share. A wonderful change from fish sandwiches and pizza!

B.O.s Fish Wagon:

B O's Fish Wagon - Key West, FL, United States

B O's Fish Wagon - Key West, FL, United States

Probably in the top five for atmosphere, B.O.s is terrific! It looks like a shell of a place, until you look closer and see that it’s a quirky, cool location for the freshest fish! It ain’t the cheapest, but it’s well worth the dollars! They have live music on Thursday evenings (I was surprised to see that they could fit three people and instruments in there!), and half price beer every day at happy hour….GO!

Schooner Wharf Bar:

This place wins hands down for old-school Key West character. It sits along the harbor walk and is somewhat hard to spot. The bar and surrounding tables are almost completely covered with umbrellas and canvass, shielding patrons from the hot keys sun. If you feel like some vitamin D, or want to get a better night view of the harbor area, they have a rooftop deck as well. There is live music everyday that usually starts around noon, and you can hear all types of musicians and bands. We have come to love Michael McCloud’s mellow sound and quick, dry whit. The happy hour isn’t great, and their food isn’t stellar, but the atmosphere more than makes up for it. YOu can’t walk by and not want to go in. Seriously, this place is great. If you don’t go, you can’t say you’ve been to Key West.

Places to visit:

Truman’s Little White House:

Harry S Truman Little White House Museum - Key West, FL, United States

Most people are familiar with, and visit the Hemmingway Museum, and it is definitely a must-see. However, far less know about the Little White House. It’s located in a neighborhood blocks off of Duval, where you would never expect to find such a place. I toured it for the first time with my friend, Karen. We would both highly recommend it! If you missed my post about it, you can read it here.

Smather’s Beach:

Smathers Beach - Key West, FL, United States

Most everyone who comes to Key West is told about the beach at Fort Zachary Taylor State Park. In my humble opinion, Key West isn’t a “beach” town. Yes, it’s an island, but I feel that what makes the town special are it’s many neat restaurants, bars and houses. However, if I get the urge for beach time when I’m in town, I head for Smather’s Beach. The largest public beach in Key West, it’s sandy, versus Ft. Zachary’s rocky shoreline, and there is no admission fee. There are also several food trucks to grab a bite or a drink while you’re there, and chair, floats, kyaks and hobie cats are available for rent.

Turtle Races at Turtle Krawls Restaurant:

Turtle Kraals - Key West, FL, United States. Turtles!!

Turtle Kraals - Key West, FL, United States

Every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, Turtle Krawls holds turtle races. You get a ticket with a food or drink purchase, and those with the winning turtle ticket get a chance to open a chest full of cash. An original and fun idea. If you haven’t already, read my post about it here.

Sunset at Mallory Square:

Mallory Square - Key West, FL, United States

Mallory Square - Key West, FL, United States. Unadulterated sunset beauty

Although this is something that attracts many many people, it’s still a must do. Head to the water’s edge at Mallory Square and check out the many performers. They all have a crazy talent, and are very entertaining. There are also many food and craft vendors. The edge of the pier attracts quite a crowd as sunset nears, so go early if you want a front row seat. I suggest you go a second time, to just wander the scene.

There you have it, just some of our favorite haunts and sights!

“Shells Sink, Dreams Float. Life’s Good On Our Boat!”

Hola Mexico!

We are in Mexico!! After two long weeks of waiting  for decent weather and winds to continue to Isla Mujeres, a tight window finally appeared. It wasn’t the best scenario, so we discussed our options:
1 – Head to Mexico, and hope that the weather forecast was correct, knowing that it wouldn’t be the smoothest journey.
2 – Go back to Florida and get a mooring ball(in Ft. Myers) and wait for the endless string of cold fronts to slow down, most likely taking a month. We’d spend money that was meant for Mexico, need an additional 18+ hours to get there and have a month less time to get past Costa Rica before hurricane season sets in.
3 – Stay  anchored off of Fort Jefferson, in the Dry Tortugas national park. We’d endure at least two – three more weeks of cold fronts at anchor, losing what was left of our sanity (more on our time at anchor here later).

Scott left the decision up to me, releasing himself of blame from whatever option was chosen. None of them were good, in my opinion. I definitely didn’t want to spend unplanned money or go backward and add time to our Mexico trip, so option two was out. The thought of staying two or three more weeks at anchor where we were made me crazy, but I was very nervous to continue on with the current weather window. After much back and forth, I told myself that we’d chosen the Krogen for it’s seaworthiness, and crossing conditions weren’t always (almost never) going to be perfect, so on to Mexico it was!

Knowing that the sea conditions in the area still weren’t great (the winds had died, but swells take more time to settle), we left Sunday at noon. A cold front with strong winds was coming to Isla Mujeres on Wednesday, and we wanted to arrive ahead of it. The plan was to leave in  “bumpier” water, and eventually have it get better as we traveled. We  hoped to be at the marina in Isla Mujeres sometime on Tuesday afternoon.

Scott had a track mapped out which would take us southwest toward Cuba, more westward off of Cuba, south once we rounded Cuba and then west  toward Mexico, before heading north to Isla Mujeres. It wasn’t the most direct path, but he chose this route to try  and cross the Gulf Stream current  (which would oppose us and slow us down) as quickly as possible, and then stay in it’s counter current, keeping our speed up. We also planned to travel with our motor at a higher rpm than normal, hoping to stay at 6 knots or above and make our arrival window in Isla Mujeres before the coming cold  front.

Once  out of the reef around our anchorage, we realized that the waters were more than bumpy. The swells were pretty large, close to nine feet. It was quite an adjustment, but swells aren’t as jolting as waves, so we rolled our way toward the waters off of Cuba. We traveled at 8 and 7 knots for the first seven hours, which was great! I came on for my shift at dark, and things settled down over night to a much more comfortable ride.

At one point, a boat appeared on the radar about four miles off of our port side. After some time, it dropped back behind us, and then headed off of our starboard side and off of the radar. Scott assumed that it was the Coast Guard, making sure that we weren’t headed to Cuba.

By daylight the winds had calmed even more, and we enjoyed a terrific ride for most of the day. Scott was even tempted to make a drink and enjoy some time up on the bow! All good things come to an end however, and by late afternoon, the winds had increased again. Scott took us closer to Cuba than expected, trying to get some protection from the building winds. We were about 14 miles  off of the coast and still in the counter current, making about 8 knots.

When I came on again at dark on Monday evening, our ride was getting more “spirited,” as Scott likes to call it. We were rounding the western coast of Cuba and heading south, still in the counter current and still making good speed. Wind and waves continued to build, and it felt at times like we were on a roller coaster ride, rising and falling, and then jolting from side to side suddenly along the way. Once in awhile we’d get a really good roll (or should I say jolt)to the side, which would wake Scott up. He would come up to make a course change, trying to smooth things out a bit. It would be effective for awhile, and then we’d start to hard roll again, and he’d have to readjust. He’d planned to turn more south overnight, but it would have put us in a pretty big beam sea (side to side) even with our paravanes out, so we stayed where we were.

I stayed on watch for eleven hours overnight, trying to give Scott a chance to rest and stay out of the pilot house as much as possible. By 2am or so, things started to calm down a bit, and I think he  got some bits of actual sleep. At 6:30am, when Scott came back on watch, I was looking forward to some actual sleep myself, in calmer conditions. That lasted all of 40 minutes.

I awoke to  another, bigger, faster roller coaster ride. Knowing that Scott would call if he needed me, and not wanting to see what was causing the roller coaster ride (I had a sleep mask on, to keep daylight out, and also the site of big waves), I stayed on the couch, which was a bit challenging. We were rolling so hard that the couch was trying to move, even though Scott had it screwed down. The same was true for our table, that was tied to the wall. It was doing it’s best to come across the saloon toward me. Our end table moved back and forth so much that one of the legs unscrewed itself. Thankfully, I had stuffed towels into the refrigerator and some of the cabinets, to keep the clanking of bottles down.

When I finally couldn’t hold off  a trip to the head any longer, I made my way there with the sleep mask on, not wanting to catch any glimpse of what was going on outside through windows. I managed to feel my way there and back,  flopping onto the couch and assuming a braced position on my side.

I kept waiting and waiting for the winds to calm as I laid on the couch, trying to hold on without getting my fingers pinched as it tried to move back and forth. After almost four hours, things seemed somewhat better, so I ventured up to the pilot house  to see how Scott was faring. I learned that my decision to stay put, with my mask on, was a wise one. We had come into big, BIG seas. Our autopilot was working, but Scott had to constantly change course, to keep the confused seas on our stern, so he ended up hand steering through it.

Scott estimated that the waves were as high as 14 feet. My husband doesn’t exaggerate, or embellish for effect. Believe me, we’d much rather brag that we had glass calm seas! The waves around us were larger and higher than our boat. Scott’s eye level is approximately 12 feet off of the water line when at the wheel, and the waves were well above his eye level. He’d see the wall of water coming at him, and then a hole would open and our boat would go through. Waves were  higher than our flybridge on all sides.

We would roll to about 30-35 degrees, and hold there, until another wave came from behind to push us back. At some points, the waves were large enough and steep enough that we were sliding down them sideways. Again, I was VERY happy to have been down on the couch, with my mask on….can you say heart attack at sea?! During all of this madness, our speed went down to as low as 3 knots, when we weren’t surfing down a wave at 9!

We were still clawing our way south. Every time Scott would change course, the waves and winds would pick up again and we’d have to adjust back to the north. There is an entrance to Isla Mujeres from the north, but a sandbar runs across it. Scott was worried about waves from the large swells breaking  on the sandbar, causing us to drop and hit bottom, or causing our paravanes to hit bottom, so we stayed on course for a southern entrance. By noon, things had calmed to a  “normal”, big roll, and we were approximately two hours or so from Isla Mujeres. Those last two hours felt like two days! Seas were still big, and we were still fighting our way south.

FINALLY, Isla Mujeres came in sight!

 

 

 

As we moved behind it, the waves died down from protection of land, and we picked up some current that pushed us back up to 8 knots…thank the Lord! We had to bring the birds in, as we came into waters below 25 feet or so. To do this, the boat has to be at idle and pointed into the wind. Thankfully, as the waves  had died considerably, this went really smoothly. We’ll take smooth wherever we can get it! Scott also raised the paravanes up, to prepare for coming into a slip.

We made our way past beaches and hotels along the shoreline, and into the harbor of Isla Mujeres. After finding Marina Paraiso, we tied to the end of a pier, to await our slip assignment and instructions on how to proceed with customs (more on this later). We arrived at the dock at 3pm on Tuesday, 51 hours after raising anchor in the Dry Tortugas.

Looking back at those few hours of stress and worry in huge seas, we realize how great our boat handled it. Had Scott not hand steered, it still would have been fine. He was just trying to make it somewhat more comfortable for us. We could have let it continue on autopilot, and would have made our destination with no problem. This  boat has crossed the Atlantic with a previous owner, without paravane stabilization, so a few hours of 14 foot seas was probably just a blip on it’s radar.

The best that Scott can figure, is that the high waves were caused by a combination of depth change (as we entered more shallow waters) and eddy currents (currents that spin off of a main current) opposing the  25 knots winds. All of these factors came together at the right time to cause large, confused seas.

Howard weathered the trip like a champ, enduring it better than us! He was tucked into his “triangle of safety” on the pilot house bench, where he now spends long passages.

 

When we had a sudden roll, or a wave would break on us, he’d raise his head, eyes wide. We just had to pet him a few times and tell him he was fine, and he’d settle back into his travel coma (not drug induced this time!). I don’t think he was actually getting much sleep either, more like just trying to get through it, like the rest of us.

Now that it’s all behind us, we’re  thrilled to be here! I will be posting about our trip from Key West to the Dry Tortugas, and our two weeks at anchor there soon, as well are our customs experience. For now, we’re still getting settled here, washing our salt covered boat, doing laundry, orienting ourselves to the area, etc. Hurra Mexico!

“Shells Sink, Dreams Float. Life’s Good On Our Boat!”

 

Adios USA!

We are shoving off this morning, to make our way toward Mexico!

Last night we spent time in some of our favorite Key West places, and said goodbye to some friends that we’ve made here. We also met some new faces..Key West locals, by way of Maryland! Thanks for welcoming us Joe and Provie!

After a five hour run today, we’ll anchor for the night in the Marquesas Cays, and then head for the Dry Tortugas tomorrow. We’ll wait there for a good weather window, to Isla Mujeres, Mexico. It’s a two day run, and we’ll most likely be waiting close to two weeks in the Dry Tortugas for weather..ugh! Internet will be non existent until we get to Mexico, so I’ll upload posts in a few weeks, when we get settled.

Sea Life won’t see U.S. waters again for a few years!Adios!

“Shells Sink, Dreams Float. Life’s Good On Our Boat!”

Dog Walks And Turtle Races

While on our downtown walk with Mark and Maria, we happened to be at the right time and place to see the annual Key West Daschund Walk! The route is deliberately kept brief, to cater to the dachshunds’ short legs. Many of the dogs were in costumes…

Some even appeared to be  Star Wars fans…

Dogs from other breeds also take part, becoming honorary dachshunds for the day.

A supply wagon was along for the ride, to carry water for thirsty walkers and plastic bags for quick cleanup of any accidents — as well as providing transport for dogs that get tired along the way.

Donations were collected along the route , for the community pet-food pantry. The walk was an unexpected treat! More fun photos here.

Turtle Krawls Restaurant, located just off of our pier, advertises turtle races three times a week. Scott and I have been interested in this event, but have yet to make it. We finally managed to get there for Friday’s race, with Mark and Maria in tow.

Four turtles “compete” in the race, and when you make a purchase (food, drink, etc.)  you receive a ticket with a corresponding number on it (1-4, for one of the turtles). If you’re turtle wins, you turn in your ticket for a key, which may or may not open a chest that contains a cash prize. If no one wins, the prize amount grows for the next race.

We were game for this, so we ordered drinks and were given a handful of tickets, instead of one per person. The odds were now stacked in our favor, as both couples had a ticket for each turtle.

As we took our places along the race “track,” we met this great couple, who traveled from Alabama, and had gotten married that morning on the beach! Congratulations to Jeff and Meredith!

The  shelled athletes were taken out of their blue Igloo cooler (which I guess helps them get angry enough to race) and placed on the track.

Turtle number one flew out in front, and blew the others away. I’ve never seen a turtle move so fast, he was practically running! I think he was trying to get as far away from that cooler as possible.

Unfortunately, our keys didn’t open the box. Maybe Scott and I will try again, as the jackpot grows!

“Shells Sink, Dreams Float. Life’s Good On Our Boat!”