Sunday, March 19, 2023

2023: Everglades FL

 17 March 2023
Depart: Port of the Islands Marina, Naples, FL 1:00
Arrive: Little Shark River anchorage, Everglade, FL 7:30 (at sunset)
Distance: ~ 50 nm
Conditions: "in our face wind" on the Gulf from the south @ 15 knots, light spray from waves, sunny, cool wind and long sleeved shirts required

We could not attempt our getaway  from Port of the Islands until 1:00 due to shallow water on the way out to the Gulf of Mexico. With time to kill, Clark pulled the dinghy down to look at the engine problem. Talking to the dockmaster, Clark discovered that there was a possibility that the only issue was dirt clogging the tell tail of the engine. Clark took a thin piece of wire and was able to clear the clog. When he saw water come out, he tried the engine and found all was well. Phew! We have a working dinghy with minimal effort!

Knowing that we would be watching for shallow water as we traveled, I made sure we had lunch before we took off.  The map pictured below shows the location of the marina buried deep in the mangroves.

Making our escape through the mangroves ...

We saw two of the contraptions shown below as we navigated the mangroves.  They appear to be used for geographical surveys of the water depths.

We targeted to reach the shallowest point around 2:00 when the tides would give us the most water. The dockmaster left around noon to meet boaters coming into the marina so that he could show them the way in. We passed them on our way out.

They waited until we had a wide area to pass. Suddenly  what was a quiet waterway became Grand Central Station! Apparently, the catamaran required 4.5' of water depth. They asked what we had seen at the lowest point which was 5'4" of water. They were happy to hear that.

Clark gave me a choice for anchorage tonight - a) possibility of bugs or b) possibility of rocking. I chose B without hesitation. We anchored in the Gulf of Mexico about one mile offshore. 

Anchored one mile off shore in Gulf of Mexico

I saw no bugs, but I did see a pretty interesting sunset. I thought the clouds looked like animals in front of the sun.

Looks like a lion to me!

18 March 2023
Depart: Shark River anchorage 9:00 and 10:10
Arrive: Buttonwood Sound anchorage, Key Largo, FL 6:00
Distance: ~ 65 nm
Conditions: calm and sunny

I made the right choice for the anchorage. We had light rocking only and minimal signs of bugs. 

We pulled up anchor as per usual and started on our way. Unfortunately, shortly after we started moving, the autopilot gave an error message that said "drive". Clark played around with it but said it was not behaving properly, so he rebooted the system. That did not help, so we were without autopilot for our travels. 

As Clark tried to diagnose the autopilot issue, he heard a clicking sound coming from the props and decided he better dive into the water to take a look. He shut down the engines to let us drift while he checked things out. 

Just as he was ready to get in the water, I saw a fin in the water. I hoped it was a dolphin, but it was not shaped correctly and the behavior was rather frenzied. I called out to Clark to hold up on getting in the water. He came to have a look and agreed that we were looking at a shark in a feeding frenzy.

As we watched (I could not get a good picture), we saw the shark dive repeatedly and finally something blood red was floating on the water beside the shark. Then the red object and the shark disappeared together and all was calm. 

Brave soul that he is, Clark then climbed into the water to look at the props. I was on high alert and told him I would start banging on the hull if I saw anything of concern. 

He managed to check both props and come up with an "all looks normal" diagnosis. As he stepped on the swim ladder to climb out, one of the bolt holding the ladder together broke and disappeared into the water. 

Our list of things to fix increased by two today: autopilot and swim ladder. What else could go wrong today?

We drifted for an hour while we first watched the shark and then as Clark checked out the props. By the time we were ready to go, we had drifted back almost to our starting point an hour earlier.

Yellow line shows our path from drifting

Clark has been spoiled with the autopilot capability. For all of our years boating prior to "Sunset Delight", we did not have an autopilot. Today he complained about watching depth, reading the chart, and steering simultaneously. Something he did for years. I was not sympathetic because I begged him to get autopilot before we did the Loop on "Sea Moss", and he refused. 

We arrived back in the Keys close to Marathon, but we are heading home and used a route that placed us in a more northeasterly position.

We saw the typical "birds on the marker" as we navigated the skinny waters of the ICW.

Expecting rain tomorrow, Clark went until 6:00 to anchor near Key Largo. 

The map below shows our anchorage selection for tonight. We looked for a place with lots of space, protection from weather, but open with a cool breeze. Clark found what we were hoping for in Buttonwood Sound, Key Largo, Florida.

Clark took a sunset picture of Key Largo.

Thursday, March 16, 2023

2023: Port of the Islands FL

 16 March 2023 

We got a late start to our day today. Eventually, Clark and I went up to register and pay for our stay here at the Port of the Islands Marina. 

We found the dockmaster to be a rather talkative chap. Combining Clark with the dockmaster meant that an hour passed, and they had not even gotten to the point where they discussed payment. I stayed for a while to listen but finally gave up and decided to walk back to the boat to get breakfast. 

Recently Clark was informed that his credit card may have been compromised, and he would be provided with a new card which we have not received yet. No sooner did I get to the boat than I had to turn around and walk back to the dockmaster's office to pay with my card. By the time I finally got to eat, it was almost lunch time. I decided we should just go with a brunch and skip a meal.

Here are some views of the marina and surrounding area we saw while walking around.

Dockmaster Office and Ship Store

Popular Boat Ramp

As we approached the boat ramp, we saw a man driving a truck backing his boat into the water with his wife sitting inside ready to drive the boat once it was in the water. 

The Port of the Islands Marina shares property with the Port of the Islands Resort and has a restaurant called Angler's Cove. 

Inside the hotel where the restaurant is located ...

Grounds outside the hotel ...

Apparently to get to the South Pole, one must travel directly through the earth as that arrow on the sign below points straight down.

Classic X miles to ?? ...  sign.
Key West - 109 mi
Cuba - 229 mi
South Pole - 7055 mi

Some interesting boats in the marina ...

Classic Tug - "Cruz-In"

2-seater Go Cats on the Water

We decided to go exploring this afternoon by dinghy. I told Clark that I wanted to get a load of laundry done and would be available to go exploring at 1:00. While I finished up the laundry, Clark got the dinghy prepped and ready to go.

One of the many things Clark discussed with the dockmaster this morning was the local waters that we might want to explore 

Possible Mangrove exploration circled in yellow

and places we might choose to anchor should we decide to visit again in the future.

Looks like a good place to get lost

When the conversation finally got around to paying, it became clear that we had checked into the equivalent of "Hotel California" where you can check out but you can never leave. We came in on a near high tide at 6:00 last night. The high tide on Friday, the day we plan to leave, will occur around midnight, so we either don't leave at high tide or we travel foreign waters at full dark! 

With only 6 inches to spare coming in here when we did, leaving at non-optimal tide seems truly sketchy. Clark asked the dockmaster for a recommendation based on the tidal data available, and he said to leave at 1:00 p.m. on Friday to arrive at the shallowest place around 1:45 to get the most out of the available water!

With registration, laundry, and brunch completed, we managed to start off on our dinghy ride shortly after 1:00 as hoped.

Views of the marina ...

We quickly went from this ...

to this ...

It seemed like everywhere we went we ran into shallow water. We agreed that we should have gone exploring in our kayaks instead of using the dinghy.

Clark kept pulling up the outboard due to the shallow water. Apparently, he ran it one time with the engine not getting water for coolant.  When he saw no water coming out of the engine tail, he turned it off, but it was too late. We had no power to get back to the marina, but we did have two halves of a kayak paddle. Clark took one end and I took the other, and we started paddling!  The truly disappointing thing was that the only wildlife we saw during our exploration were two birds. 

Green line shows our dinghy path
under power of outboard motor

Traveling using kayak paddles was very hard work. The dinghy is extremely heavy with a 40 hp outboard on the stern. We had to deal with wind and current. Every time I quit paddling to stretch my muscles, Clark would yell, "Keep paddling or we'll lose ground!" I paddled continuously on the starboard side while Clark steered with his paddle from the stern. When the water was shallow enough, a frequent event, Clark propelled us by using the paddle to "pole" the boat.

On the way into the mangroves, we passed a boat where several people were fishing. When we came back the other way, that boat was gone. Finally, after far too long paddling, we saw a house (yay civilization) and then eventually we came upon a boater who yelled, "What happened?" When we answered, "We lost our engine.", he asked where we were going and offered to tow us. Thank goodness Clark said yes. We tied up and had a pleasant ride back to the marina. As he said farewell, he introduced himself as "Captain Billy". 

He dropped us off at the entrance to the dock where "Sunset Delight" is docked. The wind helped us as we paddled the last few feet to our boat. In fact Clark was afraid that if we did not paddle we would overshoot our landing spot at SD's door! After all the fun, it was now 3 o'clock. We were gone two hours and only about 1/3 of that time was spent actually exploring in a working dinghy!

The orange line shows the portion we paddled  / poled.
The blue line showed where we were towed.

Since today was Clark's birthday, we went to the Angler's Cove Restaurant for dinner. Clark had steak and I had grouper. In honor of Clark's birthday, I had NY style cheesecake for dessert. He got to watch me eat it as he decided not to order dessert.  I paid the bill since he is still waiting for his credit card to show up in the mail. He laughed when I said it was my treat since the money comes out of our shared account.

Having missed breakfast for an early lunch, I requested we go to the restaurant at 5:00 for dinner. That meant we were back on the boat early and could connect via Facetime with our family in Connecticut before relaxing in front of the tv for the rest of the night. 

Wednesday, March 15, 2023

2023: Marathon Departure

 13 March 2023

With the end of March rapidly approaching, many boaters are preparing to leave Marathon and start the migration to more northerly waters. We are part of that crowd. Our reservation comes to an end on Wednesday, so we had plenty to do before we got underway. 

We have been under a boil-water advisory due to water main breaks north of us in the Keys. Thanks to my friend DeAnna, I got Clark to connect a hose directly to the boat to bypass our water tanks so I could do dishes and laundry on the boat without worry of our drinking water being contaminated.  I had wondered why we had not hooked up the hose but figured Clark had a reason not to. After talking to DeAnna, I asked him why we couldn't hook up. Turned out the reason he did not do it was that, since we never use that feature, he forgot we could. 

Because a number of people are departing, a few folks decided to plan a departure potluck dinner on the docks. We had a huge crowd and lots of great food from appetizers to dessert. 

After dinner, Clark ran back to the boat and grabbed his guitar. 

He was quite happy when Jean from "Jean Marie" came to sing while he played.

We got to watch the sun go down as they serenaded us.

14 March 2023

I started today with a provisioning trip with my friend Sandy. We first visited McDonald's for an iced tea each, then traveled to the farmer's market in Duck Key followed by a stop at the Dollar Store on our way to Publix. I let him know when I was done, and Clark met me at the entrance to Marlin Bay with a dock cart to carry my stash back to the boat where I used my Vac/Seal machine for packaging the meat for the freezer.

After a quick lunch, our friend Kevin stopped by for a visit and to introduce us to his friend Vicky. We spent a delightful afternoon catching up with Kevin and getting to know Vicky. Vicky is new to boating and plans to travel north with Kevin for part of his return trip to his home in Virginia. 

Kevin ("Koastal Karma") and Vicky

Our boating neighbors on "Patience", Guy and Barbara, invited us to their boat for dinner and conversation this evening. Katy and Tim on "Pangur Ban" made it six for dinner. We had only briefly spoken with Katy and Tim previously, so it gave us a chance to get to know them.

I let Adam and DeAnna know when we were back on our boat after dinner, and they brought Whatley by to woof goodbye. We gave him lots of love as it will be a long time until we get to pamper and spoil him again. 

15 March 202
Depart: Marlin Bay Marina, Marathon, FL 8:15 a.m.
Arrive: Port of the Isles Marina near the Everglades 6:30 p.m.
Distance: approx 80 nautical miles
Conditions: North wind with gusts to 25 knots, rain expected

In preparation for leaving early today, we were up before sunrise. About the only plus I can see to getting up before the sun is to see the sun rise. 

This morning's sun rise! I felt cheated!

Folks at Marlin Bay have decided that Clark should have a shirt that says "What Wind?!" Even though we had cloudy skies and strong winds, we would still be leaving today. 

We drew quite a crowd at our slip as we prepped to depart. Even Whatley came to give a final paw shake and beg a few last treats. We had plenty of help removing our lines and pulling in our electric. A special thanks to Guy and Adam for their efforts to help us get underway.

There's nothing quite like trying to make an elegant departure from a marina in strong winds with a crowd watching the show. Other than tapping the pole on our port side as we left the slip, Clark did an amazing job as always. We were a tad closer than he thought and the wind rapidly pushed us sideways into the pole.

Unfortunately I was too busy working the boat to get a picture of all the folks on the dock. As we exited the marina, I looked over and saw DeAnna on her boat, "Saltaire", waving madly, so I waved madly back as Clark blew his horn to worn any on-coming traffic that we were pulling out of the marina. We were on our way!

As soon as I stepped out the back of the boat this morning, I knew I needed a jacket due to the north wind. As we traveled northward, I realized that a light jacket would not suffice. I ended up bundled up with jeans instead of shorts and multiple layers of clothes up top.

Yesterday sweating! 
Today freezing!

We played the exciting game today where we try to decide if what we see ahead is a lobster trap or a white cap! Guess wrong and you lose big time! Clark suggested that it would make a good video game with various levels of challenge depending on wave heights, wind direction, and proximity of traps. Clark even tried adjusting our route to try to avoid traps. With minimal success and added time to our trip, he returned to his original route. Being groggy after lunch made it difficult to focus on watching the water for the elusive traps.

Our wave heights today ranged from 1 to 2 feet to 3 to 4 feet. On occasion we would get a strong gust of wind that would blow the spray way over the boat. More times than I could count the water sprayed through the front panel of the full enclosure to douse us with water. I spent hours standing behind the  upper helm seat to stay dry while watching for traps. I definitely got a workout today as I held onto the seat as I continuously swayed to the motion of the boat.

We did find the rain that was predicted. Fortunately, we only found the tail end of it. Clark's timing for departure and travel was impeccable as usual. We did see some amazing clouds. Clark remarked that the water looked very green today.

The portion of the trip over the bay finally came to a close around 5:15 after 9 grueling hours of waves and pot dodging. Then the real fun started as we turned onto the waterway leading to the Port of the Isles (Islands) Marina. Clark knew the water was "skinny" here, and we needed to come in at high tide to get to the marina. Anything less than high tide would make it unlikely we could make it through.

Instead of looking for traps, my job became watching the depth finders and giving readouts on numbers so Clark could focus 100% on the chart. When we got to a place where one depth finder showed 6 inches of water below the keel and the other depth finder refused to give any realistic readings whatsoever, we knew we were close to being in trouble. 

We knew we definitely did not have over 100 feet of water on the starboard side and 6 inches on the port. Clark put the starboard engine in neutral while we found our way to deeper water. Further along our way in, we found a spot where we had less than 6 inches under us! I mentioned to Clark, "This route is not for the faint of heart!" Although we saw lots of skinny water, we also saw areas with 10 or 12 feet of water. The numbers were erratic to say the least. 


We saw very little boat traffic today. On the open water we saw two other boats - both were trap boats with the owners checking their traps. As we made our way on the inland waterway to the marina, we passed two small boats coming towards us.

Boat traffic!

With the skinny water, boaters must follow the channel closely. I found the number of channel markers in some places to be pretty amazing.

Enough markers through here?

After 10 miles of "watch the depth" and "what does that marker mean", which equated to about 75 minutes of time, we finally saw Port of the Isles come into view. 

Four very friendly folks greeted us at the dock to help tie our lines. We arrived on the day of their monthly docktails gathering and were invited to join them for food and drinks. Although we appreciated the invite, we had too much to do. The boat was literally coated in salt; I could write my name in it! Besides that, we needed real food instead of chips and dip.

By the time we had at least some of the salt rinsed off the boat, it was already 7:30. I texted various folks to let them know we arrived at our destination safely. In response DeAnna sent me a picture of a "grumpy Whatley". I didn't know he could do grumpy. I guess he misses my doggy treats.

Whatley in a bad mood - he's 
still adorable even when grumpy

Thankfully I had a bunch of leftovers in the fridge so I could throw dinner on the table quickly. Tomorrow is Clark's birthday, so I suggested we eat at the restaurant here to celebrate. His hope is that we will be able to use the dinghy tomorrow to go exploring. Hopefully the weather will cooperate.