We have been in Key West, Florida for almost a week, and I finally have a chance to sit down and catch you up on our journey here.
Our last ten days in the Exumas were frustrating. We had strong, sustained winds for seven straight days, out of nine. The noise of the wind was terribly unnerving, and the slapping of the waves against the Aluminum Princess tied behind us added to the madness. By day five or so, I resorted to blasting music to try and drown it all out. We’d hoped to get to one or to more cays during our stay, but time was getting short. The check in date for our slip in Key West was getting close, and the weather window for good gulf stream travel was very small. The weather in the Exumas was calming down, but there was a cold front predicted for the Florida area, bringing rain, storms and winds in the 30mph range. We decided to do a 50 hour run straight through to Key West, and hopefully keep ahead of the front.
At 6am on Tuesday, we pulled up our anchor and started the long journey to the keys that would take us across the Bahama Bank, up the Tongue of the Ocean, back across the bank and then into the Atlantic, crossing the gulf and continuing on in the Atlantic to Key West.
The Bahama Banks is similar to the Chesapeake Bay, in that it is an overall shallow body of water, averaging less than 30 feet. Because it is shallow, waves are closer together, or have a “shorter wave period.” This is can quickly become unnerving and uncomfortable, which it did (for me). Unfortunately, we could not deploy our paravanes in less than 30 feet, to avoid them possibly hitting bottom as we roll. So, we rolled our way across the banks.
I was watching the depth finder like a hawk, and as soon as we approached the Tongue of the Ocean, and deep water, I shouted out for the paravanes. As Scott suspected, our trip up the tongue was “spirited.” The winds had finally calmed down after seven days, but it takes water longer to settle. Even with the paravanes deployed, we were really moving about. I worried that it would get worse, not better as we approached our second banks crossing. Scott predicted that it would settle by the time we hit the banks, and it did…in time for him to go off watch and to sleep, lucky dog!
Of course, as we approached the Atlantic things picked up again. We consistently rolled, As a result, I didn’t enjoy the calm-water sleep that Scott had. It wasn’t as bad as we’d had in the tongue, and I eventually got used to it, keeping in mind that the boat will take way more than I am comfortable with!
Howard bounced back to his old travel self, and again wanted to be in the pilot house with us, where he assumed is “trucker” pose on the bench.
As it got more rough, we made a “triangle of safety,” to keep him from sliding back and forth as he slept. He approved.
Since we were traveling in the deep waters of the Atlantic and the gulf stream, Scott decided to set the fishing rods out and see if he could get a bite. About an hour later, one of the reels started spinning, and he’d caught a mahi mahi (dolphin fish)! I was then berated with commands…”FISH ON!! FISH ON!! PUT IT IN NEUTRAL, BRING THE GAS DOWN, COME REEL IN THIS OTHER LINE, GET THE CAMERA, OPEN THE TRANSOM DOOR, MAKE SURE HOWARD STAYS INSIDE!!” I tried to do all of these things at once, running around like a chicken with it’s head cut off. Scott reeled the mahi in toward the boat, and as he went to gaff it (a pole with a sharp hook on the end that is used to stab the fish and then lift it into the boat) the fish slipped off of the lure. ARRGHH!! He reset the line, and it was back to the drawing board.
Not 30 minutes later….FISH ON!!
This time, I handled my ten jobs at once much better, and Scott decided to pull the mahi into the cockpit and then kill it. The fish was pretty sizable, and was still putting up a fight. I ran inside and closed the screen door, not wanting to entertain a mahi in the saloon! Scott quickly killed it…our first fish!!
At 7pm on night two, Scott came on watch. I stayed up until about 8:30, and then went down to try and catch a nap in the saloon (I have trouble sleeping in our bed when we’re underway, too much movement down there). An hour later, I woke up to a new noise in the cockpit. When I called up to Scott about it, he informed me that it was our flag, whipping in the increased winds, and that we were coming into a thunderstorm. Thunderstorm….in the dark. I rolled over, and prepared for terror, Howard ran up to the pilot house with Scott!
We were in the storm for almost 45 minutes. The winds quickly kicked up to 60mph, and the waves grew so much that Scott had to bring the motor speed down. At almost idle speed, the boat slammed up and down less. It was a challenge for Scott, not being able to see the waves, and it was also the strongest winds we’ve ever been in, but eventually the storm passed. Scott increased our speed, and we continued on. Howard weathered the storm out in the triangle of safety.
At approximately 2:30 am on Thursday, we were off the coast of Key Largo, and made our turn to continue another six or so hours to Key West. I was on watch, and noticing lightening off to our port side. Scott was sleeping on the bench behind me, and said that it was most likely in the gulf and would stay there. However, by the time my watch ended, just before 6am, rain was again appearing on our radar and the lightening was now visible in front of us as well as to our port side.
We were back in range for cell service, so Scott pulled up radar on the internet. A MASSIVE front was moving toward us, full of red and yellow precipitation. I immediately felt nauseous. The thought of going through this thing terrified me. After viewing it for some time, Scott was fairly confident that we could beat the worst of it to Key West, and get tied up in time to ride out the rest. So the race was on! He chose a quicker route that required us to maneuver through some crab pots, but we’re very experienced with that, having cruised the Chesapeake for so long!
We were now moving against the current, so our speed was down. It felt like we would never get there! After 52 hours and another, bigger pending storm, I was done. Finally, we turned into slip A-7 at the Key West Bight Marina, and tied Sea Life to the pier. Thankfully, the worst of the front stayed to the west of us, and we just had some light off and on rain until evening.
So, we’d traveled 52 hours straight..our longest leg yet! We arrived at 8:30am on Thursday, and by the time we tied up and got the systems running on shore power and such, it was 10:30; we were zombies. There was debate as to whether to sleep until the afternoon, but we decided to go into town for lunch, have a few celebratory beers and try and stay up until late afternoon. We made it until 6pm, and then collapsed for 12 hours of straight sleep.
We are here in Key West for the month, and look forward to holiday events and visitors from home!
Shells Sink, Dreams Float. Life’s Good On Our Boat!”