Thursday, February 4, 2016

Boot Key bound

4 Feb, 2016
After  a couple rainy days in Fort Myers Beach, we headed south.   There are two possible routes, one inside, one outside.  The inside route takes you up one little river and down the next, under a couple bridges and through the countryside.  It is the more scenic.   However, it is shallower.  We decided it was not for us but it sounded great to “Gust-O”.  They could avoid any possible rolling waves in the gulf and it may have been a little shorter route to our next planned stop.

Out into the gulf we went.  Lack of wind made it a non-sailing day, but getting farther south to warmer weather was more important than sailing.  We were anxious to re-stow the stocking caps and gloves!

We were able to keep in radio contact with “Gust-O” and were told they had a little unplanned stop which delayed them.  We’ll let them tell any portion of the story they wish to share.   

Their delay meant we need to head part way back if the boats were to stay together.  We also needed to find an alternative stop/anchorage for the night.  We chose to meet at Panther Key.  It was our first out-in-the-wilds anchorage and was great.  We rafted up briefly with Ray and Anita and then spent a quiet relatively bug-less evening.  Ray and Anita were not quite as lucky on the bug-less part.

Next day was a day of sailing, motor sailing and motoring with occasional showers in the morning.  The afternoon brought sunshine and calm seas.  The evening found us at anchor in Little Shark River in the Florida Everglades.  It looked swampy spooky as we entered the anchorage area.  Owls hooted and other birds made unrecognizable  sounds.

Anita asked “where are the alligators? I don’t see any alligators.  Aren’t there supposed to be alligators?”  I offered to take her to shore for an alligator hunt and chase, but she declined.   We saw no alligators so were not eaten alive by them.  However, the mosquitoes and other bugs would have enjoyed a feast if we hadn’t gone below and installed our screens.  Again, we enjoyed a relatively bug-less night but Ray and Anita fared less well.  It is great having them for bug bait.  I believe I heard Anita say they were never going back there again!

Our next day’s trip was going to be a long one, so we arose in the dark to do the morning prestart engine checks, etc.  Those done and with coffee in hand, we awaited first light only to discover we were in thick fog, surrounded in a white silence broken only by the odd wild noise.  We delayed our start for a short while before deciding to head slowly back out to sea backtracking on our track from last night.  Another boat in the anchorage headed out just ahead of us.  Their more fancily equipped vessel included an automatic fog horn which sounded every few minutes even after they disappeared.

We only had to travel a short distance off shore before we were out of the fog.  Breezes gradually built from a fortuitous direction which let us raise sails and shut down the engine, a relief from engine noise and a savings of low fuel.

The sailing was great.  This was our view from the cockpit.

This was my view into the cockpit.

We doused sail shortly before passing under the 7 Mile Bridge.  We were now on the Atlantic side of the Florida Keys and were reminded of it as we turned to port to head for Boot Key Harbor and Marathon.  Wind waves combined with a slight swell from sea and the occasional boat wake made for a rolling, bouncy trip for a little while.  The quiet waters of the harbor were welcome.  Almost 8 years ago to the day would have found us in this same harbor, having just purchased “Submit” a few days earlier.  We shake our heads in disbelief at our naiveté lack of experience and knowledge back then and where we went and what we did in a new-to-us untried vessel.  We should have been more cautious, but, after throwing caution and wisdom to the wind and buying her on Ebay after a couple glasses of wine, we had a great time and don’t regret a bit of it.  

Boot Key Harbor has changed significantly since we were here.  No bascule bridge at the entrance.  Less anchoring space.  More mooring balls.  It is a very popular spot for cruisers.  It is sheltered from all directions.  There is good provisioning and an active cruising community which meets on air on VHF channel 68 each day at 9am.  Newcomers are welcomed, departing yachts are wished safe travels  news and weather are shared,  find help or link up with other travelers if you wish.  Some boats come only this far and spend the entire winter.  Others never leave.

A huge municipal mooring field has been developed.  Taking a mooring grants access to dinghy parking, showers, laundry, meeting rooms, and more.  They are very popular and currently full with a waiting list.  We are number 37 on the waiting list.  The waiting list has had over 50 boats on it recently because weather has prevented arriving boats from continuing on with their travels.  The next good weather window will see a substantial exodus, flotillas headed in every direction.   A couple cold fronts are moving in tomorrow night so the next travel day may be 4 or 5 days from now.
Having no mooring, we squeeze into a spot to anchor.  

Next day brings a relaxing morning and then a LONG (for us) dinghy ride to the municipal dock.  We are at the opposite end of the harbor, and, as some of you may recall, we do not have a gas outboard for our dinghy.  We do have a fairly strong headwind and an electric trolling motor.  We decided several years ago to try eliminating gasoline and additional oils and fuel tanks and a heavy outboard motor in favor of safer, cleaner electric.  It has worked ok so far, but we lack the speed and power and long distance cruising range of traditional setups. 

The dinghy trip took us on a slow, stealth because we are so silent, cruise through the anchorage and mooring field and back.  I never fail to be entertained by the variety of boats in an anchorage or mooring field, every size, shape and condition, many to drool over, all to reject save one, “Submit”.

The marina charges $22 per day to use their dock but that includes all the amenities except the mooring ball, which is just a few dollars more. We registered, paid and walked a half mile or so to lunch. 

After lunch found the women headed back to the marina for laundry and showers and the men hiking another half mile to Publix for shopping.  The men had been given lists to fill which they augmented as they wished, even knowing they might suffer the possible female scrutiny of “why did you buy this?” or “where will we store these?’.  Once laden with treasures, a taxi was called to haul the men and their treasures back to the marina.  It was $6 well spent given that my purchases must have weighed over 100 lbs.

The fresh, clean ladies were finishing  laundry so the boys grabbed a quick shower and turned in their shower cards to avoid the $10 deposit loss.  Our dinghy had barely room for us given laundry, computer, life jackets, groceries, battery, throwable floatation device, oars, etc.  Thank heavens we were able to leave the bag of garbage in the marina dumpsters, another perk of the registration fee.

Dinner followed storing of all the supplies, and then a quiet evening and sleep……until awakening in the middle of the night just before a rain shower.  We closed hatches and ports and found ourselves wide awake with nothing to do but write this! 

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