March 29. Well we finally broke free of Marathons grasp. The bridge tender here likes to joke that he arrived a year ago for a two week visit. The wind had been blasting us for close to 3 straight weeks from the east. East was our direction of choice so we were stuck along with dozens of other boats. Wednesday was the first day of a 2 day window where the wind would drop below 20 knots for the entire 2 days. Or so we thought.
On Wednesday morning 2 dozen boats departed for various points north. Some of the boats were heading up the west coast while most were headed up the east coast. The boats with less than 4 and a half feet of draft all went up the “inside route” which is along the west coast of the keys. The route proved to be favorable with calm sea conditions in the protection of the lee of the keys. You do have to be aware of the tides and a lot of the channels are very narrow so it can be pretty intense at times. The deeper draft vessels were all relegated to going up the Hawk Channel along the eastern shore of the keys. Since this was the first day with only 15 knots of wind the sea state was still fairly large and we listened to a lot of unhappy travelers on the radio.
We spent Wednesday doing last minute provisioning and laundry. We decided to let the seas calm down and depart on Thursday. I took the dogs to shore at 0600, OMG haven’t been up at that hour in a long time. Christy had the boat squared away and was ready to go when we got back.
We had 2 anchors down for the last 2 weeks and pulling them up went a lot smoother than I thought it would. The primary had been down there for 2 months! We also have been using a kellet on our primary anchor so it took 45 minutes to collect our ground tackle and get underway.
After going out under the bridge we had to stop for fuel. We arrived in Marathon with one tank practically empty and less 30 gallons in the other. We thought we would only be staying a short while so why bother to fill up at that time. We had to run the generator for almost an hour a day to make hot water and we were pleased to discover that it was ridiculously economical. So we ended up topping off with 65 gallons of diesel and a few gallons of gasoline for the dinghy. We heard the bridge tender counting the boats as they left the harbor, 18 left with us.
After we left the fuel dock we found ourselves with 5 sailboats in view ahead of us. We also discovered that the winds had built to 20 knots and were dead on the nose. We motored for about 2 hours, making about 4 and a half knots into closely spaced 5 foot waves. After those 2 hours we had started to turn a couple of degrees to the north so we put up the mainsail with a double reef incase the winds continued to build. Even though we were so close to the wind we were able to pick up an extra knot while motor sailing with the small main sheeted as tight as I could get it.
With that extra knot we started to gain ground on the boats ahead of us. So of course they had to put up some sail too. The further we traveled the more “off” the wind we could turn so we shook the reef out and were motor sailing at over 6 knots. We actually had some good tacking duels with 2 of the boats as we looked for as much help from the sail as we could get. Conditions were pretty crappy and 2 of the boats ahead of us decided to cut through the keys and take the inside route in calmer seas. It might take them longer because they’ll have to wait for high tide to transit several shallow areas but it would be a lot more comfortable. In the 100 miles from Miami to Marathon there are only five bridges high enough that a sailboat can sneak through from one side of the keys to the other so they opted for this first opportunity.
It took us 30 miles but we were able to catch all the sailboats ahead of us and we were comfortably anchored with our “post anchoring cocktail” as each one came in and dropped their hooks. The anchorage at Rodriguez Key sucks, plain and simple. There’s just no other place to hide for the night near the half way point on this trip from Marathon to Miami. On our way south 2 months ago we anchored north of the key and got our asses kicked for the night as the winds stayed out of the east and did not swing south as predicted. This time we chose to anchor off the south shore of the key behind the 1 foot shallows that surround the key. It worked out well, there was still big wind but the swells were knocked down by the shallows in front of us. Christy went swimming as soon as we were anchored and went out to see the anchor on the bottom. She said that it was completely buried in the sandy bottom with only the chain visible.
The only drawback was the dinghy ride to shore with the dogs was a mile and a quarter with most of it through unprotected water. Both of the dogs and I got soaked and then had to do it again in the morning. Happy happy, joy joy.
There were several good parts to the day. During the trip we saw several sea turtles sunning themselves but they were quick to dive for cover as we approached. We also got to see another Pearson 422 just like ours. They’re fairly rare so seeing one out and about is noteworthy. We saw it coming at us about 200 yards off our port bow and we realized that they looked an awful lot like us so as they passed Christy hailed them on the VHF and chatted them up a bit.
Anyway, it’s good to be on the move again. The boat and crew handled a real crappy 50 mile day very well and we’re headed for Miami tomorrow.