We arrived in Key West from the Dry Tortugas on Thursday night, March 20th. Dave needed to get to someplace with an airport so he could fly to Houston for a meeting the week after Easter, and it was time to move on. The weather forecast for Thursday called for south to southwest winds at 10 to 15 knots, with a shift to the north during the day and picking up to 15 to 20 knots, perfect conditions for an easterly sail. On Wednesday afternoon Dave had cleaned the Racor fuel filter, and ran the engine for 15 minutes to ensure fuel was flowing well, and we were set to go. Nevertheless, when we started the engine Thursday morning just before dawn, getting ready to pull up the anchor and begin the 68 mile, day long passage to Key West, it died in about 3 seconds. We spent an hour trying to get the engine started, but eventually the starter stopped turning. Although we are a sailboat, we do rely on our engine to maneuver in tight places or to sail against the wind. With favorable winds forecast, Nancy exclaimed "we're a sailboat; let's just sail to Key West!" We first tried to sail out of the anchorage, but the winds were just too light (3 or 4 knots) to make headway.
After nearly drifting into Maria, a small fishing boat that was also preparing to leave the harbor, we convinced the crew of the fishing boat to take a line and pull us toward the channel out of the anchorage. (Communications were a bit rough, as they didn't realize that Nancy was speaking to them in Spanish, and they kept repeating "No speak English". When they finally realized she was speaking their language, they were very accommodating.) They pulled us just enough to get our speed up when the line slipped off our cleat (Dave is currently enrolled in remedial line-tying classes), but at that point we were making 3 knots and had just enough headway to sail. We slowly rounded the north
side of Garden Key, waiting for the 3 to 5 knot winds to freshen to the forecast 10 to 15 knots. As we waited for fresh winds, we poked along very slowly (1.5 to 3 knots), unable to keep our plotted course to deeper water off the Tortugas bank. Dave constantly replotted safe courses, weaving among coral shoals (although none within 10 feet of the surface, so really we were not in danger), but constantly eying the one shallow shoal that we seemed to be drifting towards. After 3 hours we finally slipped into 80 feet of water off the Tortugas bank, still sailing southeast. Our next challenge was sailing past Rebecca Shoal, where we could go aground, and the light winds were making it appear as if that could be a possibility. Finally the winds picked up and we were able to sail a good course past the shoals and turn east towards Key West.
Our plan was to sail within a few miles of Key West and then call TowBoat US, the AAA of the boating world, and the towing company with whom we maintain unlimited towing coverage (a bargain at only $115 a year). With the light winds of the morning we were worried we would not arrive until after midnight, but darkening clouds on the horizon to the northwest helped us out. In the early afternoon the cloud bank moved over us - a dark, flat bank low on the water, topped by towering cumulonimbus mountains - and the wind shifted dramatically to the north. As the cloud bank approached, Dave was already at the mast, preparing to put a reef in the main, and the jib was partially furled in, but the cold wind convinced him to put in a second reef (shortening the sail to present less sailcloth to the wind). As the wind picked up to 25 knots, gusting to 30, our boat speed picked up to over 7 knots as we plunged through the rapidly building waves. We were sailing inside the reef, in about 25 feet of water, so the waves never got more than 3 feet or so, but it was still a wild ride. With our increased speed we eventually made it to near Key West just after sunset and called TowBoat US. They quickly sent out a towboat that towed us into Key West harbor, past Mallory Square and into the city mooring field. We were safely tied to a mooring ball just before 10 pm. It was a long day, with challenging sailing in both light and heavy winds, but even without an engine we made it safely.
We spent nearly two weeks in Key West, not because it was our favorite destination, but because circumstances and weather kept us there. Firstly, Dave flew to Houston for a business meeting. Secondly, we had to repair our wind generator again, not once, but twice. Thirdly, we had to find a mechanic to figure out why our engine and starter had died so suddenly. And fourthly, we needed 2 days of good wind to get us to the Bahamas (our preferred destination!). Winds were consistently out of the N, or E, making easterly travel unfavorable.
The good news is that Dave had a successful meeting and trip to Houston, the wind generator is fixed and making electricity, the engine is repaired, complete with a new high output alternator, and it seems we are finally going to have two days of SE and S winds to take us to the Bahamas.
We did enjoy some sights while we were here, and as you all know, we finally got our website published and working. (We hope you are all enjoying it.) Nancy, Chris and Josh spent an afternoon at the Pirate Soul Museum. It was a great museum, highlighting many of the famous pirates with interactive displays that really kept the boys' attention. Of course, Chris filled us in on all the details that were missing. In 5th grade he did a project on the pirates of the 1700's, complete with a board game that he designed and made. But he enjoyed the museum, nonetheless.
We spent a day at the beach and Fort Zachary Taylor, and an evening at Mallory Square watching the street actors and the sunset, and of course, dinner at Jimmy Buffett's Margaritaville at Josh's insistence.
While in Key West we worshipped at Grace Lutheran for Good Friday and Easter Sunday services, and then returned the following week for services. The people were nice, the pastor gave good sermons, and we were even shuttled back to the boat after the Sunday services. Other than those rides, and a few taxi rides when we had loads of groceries or needed to be somewhere on time (i.e., church), we walked pretty much everywhere. Miles and miles of walking, but its good for us.
One highlight of our time here was our first manatee sighting. While doing laundry at the marina facility, Joshua was hanging out at the dock and called out, having spotted a manatee in the shallow clear water right at the dock. It was big, maybe 5 feet long, heavy and gray with a small head. He hung around a few minutes, then meandered away. We didn't get a picture, as Nancy rarely brings her camera on laundry outings, but maybe we'll start to bring it along for those unusual moments that come so often when one slows down to the boater's pace.
Other than that, we did school, laundry, grocery shopping, and various errands. We found a very nice Coffee Shop/Internet Café (Coffee Plantation on Caroline Street) that let us spend hours and hours working on email and the website. We were very grateful for their generosity. Normally, a cup of coffee gets you one hour of internet, but the owners graciously let us stay and stay - and we enjoyed a few meals and coffees while we were there.
We plan to leave here on Saturday, make our way around Florida and across to the Bahamas. It is about 240 nautical miles and should take us about 36-48 hours, depending on winds and the Gulf Stream. We hope to get into the Gulf Stream and gain a 3 knot lift from the current.
Roosters are everywhere in Key West!
Roosters roam freely around Key West
M/V Maria at sunrise in the Dry Tortugas
Dr. Juice performs calypso tumbling at Mallory Square
Fire eating is a favorite at Mallory Square