31 Jan 2016

31/1/16 : Made it to Key West at last!

Having delayed our departure to Key West by a couple of days we took the opportunity to explore the park by bike and foot and generally had a relaxing couple of days, plus we caught up on admin tasks from home, including putting in another planning application for a new entrance to the field.

For once the weather forecast remained consistent and so on Friday morning we inched our way out of No Name Harbor and back into the Hawk Channel for the sail down to Key West, around 130 miles.  We'd be told that the channel is full of lobster pots which very easily become wrapped around unsuspecting propellors and so we decided to take the trip in daylight only, making stops at Rodriguez Key and Bahia Honda Key each evening.

The entrance to the anchorage at Bahia Honda was an interesting one: The old railway bridge built by Henry Flagler in the early 1900s still spans the entrance with the modern road bridge behind.  In order to permit access to what is yet another Florida State Park, one of the spans has been dismantled. It's interesting that the bridge built in old Henry's time is far higher and hence more accommodating for sailing vessels (although not ours) than the modern bridge!

It's been a gentle sail along the length of the Keys but at least a sail and not a motor-sail, makes quite a change.  Being inside a reef the sea state was calm and the weather warm and largely sunny, although with a northerly breeze it was quite chilly the first day and so we were layered up for warmth, if not elegance!

The only niggle came from the myriad lobster pots, marked by floats, littering the channel .... hundreds of the things, making for vigilant navigation and quite a few avoidance tactics.  The powerboats bombing along at 25 knots or more don't seem to worry about them .... maybe they push them out of the way .... but for we slower craft it's a bit of a pain.  At least when we head back it will be outside the reef to make the most of the Gulf Stream current.

Our first impressions of Key West in terms of an anchorage are somewhat mixed: a lot of tatty (derelict?) old boats and very shallow water.  We decided to utilise the municipal mooring field for our stay (gains us use of a dinghy dock) and after picking our way around a very narrow channel dredged through the shallows ... always a bit hairy .... we're now moored up in 3m of water and tomorrow will start our exploration ashore.  Sadly Paul has developed a bit of a cold and so is feeling under the weather .... must be a reaction to finally finding some warmth!!

26 Jan 2016

26/1/16 : No Name Harbour, Key Biscayne

After weathering two days on confined on board, Friday because it rained all day and Saturday because it was very windy and boats were dancing around at anchor and coming close to running into each other, we ventured ashore on Sunday very glad to be stretching our legs again!  It hadn't been totally isolating over the previous two days: Saturday was a sunny day and we invited the couple off the neighbouring boat over for coffee and brownies (yes I baked, well Betty Crocker did and they were really very nice) plus had a manatee grazing alongside us for several hours.

Sunday afternoon we were invited to join Dan & Jackie at the local Ritz Carlton to watch their football team, the New England Patriots, play the Denver Broncos in the semi-finals of the NFL.  So the four of us climbed on our bikes (ours are somewhat rusty by now) and cycled along to this five star hotel where we parked them alongside the BMWs and Mercs and headed out to the pool bar to watch the match.

We've never watched an American football game before but quickly determined it is played in four quarters, each of fifteen minutes, so 60 minutes of playing time in total.  Would you believe it actually took 3 hours and 45 minutes to play it?  So many breaks for TV commercials, time-outs and heaven knows what else but it was a fun afternoon and I now know more about the rules in American football than I do of English football or rugby.  I won't mention how much the bar bill was ..... ouch!

Yesterday was lovely and we seemed to spend most of it chatting to other sailors anchored here, plus cycling out to the lighthouse.  Paul also gave Dan a haircut, well more of a buzzcut, on the dockside as Jackie didn't dare do it, so he's now got a very short short back and sides!  The things we do for friends!!

The anchorage is part of a state national park which has a number of BBQ stations scattered throughout it so Dan & Jackie suggested a sunset BBQ last night.  A great idea, tasty food, spectacular sunset and lots of fun.  We got into a bit of trouble with the park manager who was concerned we might set fire to the place (we were burning palm fronds by this point that whooshed into flame very satisfactorily) but we assured him that we were sober and sensible adults!

We had planned on departing today as it looked to be, and is, a beautiful sailing day but the counsel we got from several boats was don't sail down to Key West until you've got a northerly breeze.  Apparently the channel inside the reef which you have to use to avoid the effect of the Gulf Stream against you cuts up rough if the wind is from the south.  So we listened to the local advice and will depart here on Friday morning.  Given we've postponed Cuba until November we've got plenty of time and so will have a lazy few days in the sun ... weather is glorious ... at last!!

22 Jan 2016

22/1/2016 No Name Harbour, Biscayne Key

Everything changes at short notice - we were intending to sail straight down to Key West yesterday, but then we were contacted by our friends Jackie and Dan who were asking where we were, and telling us that they were in a secluded little harbour and were going to be there for a few days while the bad weather passed through.  We got out the charts and realised that if we were careful, we could navigate our way through the shallow approaches and join them, and here we are. The sailing in 2016 so far has been far better than in almost the whole of 2015. We have actually been able to sail instead of motoring a lot of the time. Long may it continue!

The harbour we are in is actually called "No Name" and is a natural bowl 3 metres deep and can accommodate a few sailing boats in cosy proximity  (no wriggle room) with protection almost all round. We are nestled in a corner close to the shore and the mangroves. Incidentally, there is an enormous orange coloured iguana close by in the trees that sits on a branch with its tail hanging down into the water, and last night as we were walking along the harbour wall we were entertained by a raccoon foraging in the rubbish bins for tasty morsels.

We have decided to stay tucked up here for a few days too while the winds and rain blow themselves out, then we will navigate our way out of here and back to the Atlantic to continue  down to Key West.

20 Jan 2016

20/1/2016 West Palm Beach

We have spent the last 2 days at anchor in Lake Worth doing administrative duties. We haven't set foot on dry land at all - and have had our eyes glued to computer screens nearly the whole time. I did repair a small leak in the dinghy as a temporary measure as the special PVC glue in the repair kit I have has dried up and I need to get some more from a chandler in the next few days. I also managed a couple of maintenance activities but nothing major.

This evening we will set off again and sail non-stop round to Key West - a journey of just over 200 miles which should take us about 30-35 hours depending on winds. Apparently it is race week down there at the moment and all marinas are fully booked so we are in a mooring field (hopefully there will be a free mooring buoy when we get there) and will have to shuttle ashore from there. We are expecting some frisky winds (~30 knots) and rain coming through on Saturday, so we might just hunker down and watch some movies for the day and let it blow itself out.

Given the amount of communication we are having to do to get everything ready to make the changes to Easton Court in April, we have decided to kick Cuba into touch for the moment as there is little or no internet availability there, and there is so much organisation still to be done before the work starts. We will go there in November instead when we are back aboard after the summer lay-up.

We will decide where we go from Key West when we get there - we might scoot up the west coast of Florida a bit, or head to the Dry Tortugas, another 60 odd miles beyond the keys. Either way, from there it will be a relaxed sail across to the Bahamas where we will spend the rest of our time before heading back to Fernandina to haul Tumi out for the summer.

17 Jan 2016

17/1/16 : Back on board

We returned to Tumi yesterday afternoon laden down with enough food to feed an army .... it seemed to take the rest of the day to stow it away.  At least we shouldn't go hungry for a while!

It was a lovely, warm and sunny day but we knew a storm was heading our way and so we decided to stay another couple of nights in the marina to let things calm down again.  And by golly did a storm hit.  We didn't switch on the wind instruments but we reckon it was blowing in excess of 70mph, amazing. We were up two or three times in the night to check on the mooring lines and at 6am, when the wind seemed to rev up to a crescendo, decided we needed to tighten them.  It was lashing down with rain and we were both soaked to the skin within seconds .... surreal really.  Anyway, the worst of it has now passed and we have spent the time today plotting our route south and generally dealing with a lot of administrative things that have been on hold for the last ten days.

So ... tomorrow morning we'll head out and sail down to Palm Beach, hopefully arriving around midnight so we can anchor and get a reasonable night's sleep.  On Tuesday we'll hop down to Fort Lauderdale for a night or two and then sail overnight to Indian Key, the first of the keys we can go to because of our depth limitation.  And by then we're hoping it will be warm and sunny and we can get back into shorts and T-shirts!

14 Jan 2016

14/1/2016 : Back in Florida but not on board just yet!

Debra's Mum (Joan) flew back out to Florida with us on 5th January for a 10 day holiday with us before we set sail south.  During this time we've based ourselves largely from the home of good friends in Orlando but have spent a few nights on board as well.

We've had a busy time, trying to show Joan the different sides of Florida: wildlife (think aligators, manatee and birdlife); entertainment (Universal Studios and a Cirque Du Soliel performance); landscapes; history (Fort Matanzas and St Augustine); space travel (Kennedy Space Center); retail therapy, fast food and food's of different nationalities.... it's been an action packed ten days and good fun.  Her last full today is today which will see us whizzing over the headwaters of the Everglades on an airboat, an exhilarating and fun experience.

Whilst the weather hasn't been as warm as we'd hoped or expected, in fact it has been cool some days, it has been dry and largely sunny so has not stopped us doing what we planned. Who knew Florida had so much to offer other than theme parks!

We'll have one more night with Karen and Ray after Joan departs and then will return to Tumi on Saturday in readiness for a Sunday departure all being well.  We want to get down to the Florida Keys and warmth as soon as possible so will probably only stop off overnight in Fort Pierce, Lake Worth and Fort Lauderdale en-route and then spend a leisurely couple of weeks sailing along the Keys.  There aren't many places we'll be able to stop given our depth limitations but we're looking forward to seeing the places we can get to, especially Key West.