June 25 to July 1

June 25, 2009 – No Name Harbor to Islamorada

We got up today about 7:00, did our morning things, and pulled up the anchor at 8:30.  We wanted to beat the storms that were predicted for later today.  We left the anchorage and headed out into Hawk Channel. 

 It runs between the outer edge of the reef and the inner line of the islands.  It is a well-protected passage and has a controlling depth of 9 feet, taking you through Biscayne Bay.  We first encountered the remaining 7 houses of Stiltsville, now taken over by the National Park Service. 
They were booze-running houses built on stilts during Prohibition.  The skies were overcast with a chance of thunderstorms.  We’ll keep an eye on the radar.  The clouds opened up to blue patches of sky and we had sunshine off and on.  The wind was 5-10 out of the SW which gave us 1-2′ waves on the bow.  The ride was bumpy near the southern end of Biscayne Bay at our speed of 19-20 knots.  There were even some whitecaps. We decided to cut through to the ICW for a smoother ride and more protection.  We cut inside at Caesar Creek between Elliott Key and Old Rhodes Key, and continued traveling south.  We passed Adam Key State Park which is a part of Biscayne National Park. 

The park consists of many keys that can only be reached by boats or airplane, some of which are privately owned.  Elliott Key is the largest of the 25 keys in the park and is graced by a hardwood jungle and a shell-laden beach.  The ICW heads down to Card Sound past numerous fishing channels. 

We crossed under two bridges leading to the Keys from the mainland. 
Next we crossed into Barnes Sound where it got kind of choppy and the ride got a little rougher. 
From there, we moved into Jewfish Creek which is a favorite fishing spot and very narrow.  A family traveling in a fishing boat, pulled up alongside of us and stayed with us for awhile before they took off into Blackwater Sound. 
We motored into Blackwater Sound and Dresenbury Creek where the Roseate Spoonbills congregate.  We weren’t lucky enough to see any there though.  To the west of us was the Everglades National Park, with its vast expanse of water and mangrove forests.   To the east of us was Key Largo.  Next, we moved into Buttonwood Sound which was much shallower at an average controlling depth of 5 feet. It was calmer here.
We had to strictly adhere to the channel for fear of running aground. Lastly, we entered Cowpens Cut. 
Cowpens was named for the pens’ early residents-they were used to hold manatees-which were killed for food.  Here we would find the marina where we would be spending the night.  We got coordinates from the dockmaster and pulled into the newly finished marina of Plantation Yacht Harbor.  Plantation Yacht Harbor is on Plantation Key near the town of Islamorada.  Islamorada is on the third largest island in the Key and means “Purple Island”.  The marina is owned by the town of Islamorada and has protection from all but hurricane force winds.  The town itself is about 5 miles from here. It is a new marina with lots of amenties like an Olympic-sized swimming pool, tennis courts, a sports complex, a sandy  beach, and swimming area to mention a few.  We pulled in along the wall and got tied up just as it started to sprinkle. 
We had traveled a total of 66.2 miles today in 4 hours, arriving at 12:30.  It only sprinkled for a short while, the sky cleared, and  the sun came out.  It made it very steamy.  Murphy got a walk and we relaxed in the comfort of the AC.  We enjoyed cocktails and appetizers around 3:00, eating an earlier dinner tonight.  It was nice to arrive early in the day, so that we could enjoy ourselves tied to the dock.  Around 6:00, a dark tubular cloud moved in from the south.
The winds picked up and the temperature dropped a little.  It was actually refreshing.  We went up on the bridge to watch the boats rush into the harbor and the storm move in.  It began to rain after about 20 minutes, but it didn’t last long.  More storms are expected this evening.  We took Murphy for his last walk and it was a beautiful night with calm winds and cooler temps. Everything was peaceful and quiet.  We watched some TV and turned in around 9:00. 

June 26, 2009 – Islamorada to Marathon

We slept really well and got up to have breakfast around 8:00.  I walked Murphy along the marina seawall to check out the boats that are docked there.  We checked the radar and will wait here until storms that are passing over the Keys move on out.  It rained around 9:00 with lightning and thunder, but the rain didn’t last long.  We don’t want to be caught in any severe storms.  Another set of clouds moved in and it poured again.  This time it really came down hard with rain going sideways and lots of wind. 

Bob sat up on the bridge to really get a good view.  By the time it stopped and the clouds moved on, it was around 11:00.  We checked the radar and all our weather sites.  The storms were gone and the radar looked clear, so it was time to make preparations to leave.  We walked Murphy, pumped out our holding tanks, untied the lines, and were moving out at noon.  We started out in the ICW and Florida Bay on the inside passage.  After 10 miles on the ICW, we passed under the bridge and through Channel Five back out into Hawk Channel (the outer passage) so we could run faster in deeper water. 

It was cloudy with light winds, but the seas had rolling waves at 1-2′ out of the southwest.  They must be left over from yesterday’s storms over the Keys. We were running right into them, so it made for a bumpy ride at times.  We pulled into Boot Key Harbor on the western end of Vaca Key near the city of Marathon.  We pulled up to Pancho’s Fuel Dock where we had made arrangements to fuel up and get dockage for the night.  
We arrived at 2:15, got fueled up, and were tied up at the dock by 3:00.  Our trip today took 3 hours for a total of 45.2 miles.
By 4:00, the dark clouds moved in from the southwest and it looked like it was going to storm.  The radar confirmed it.  By now, you can almost predict what time the storms will arrive each afternoon.   A beautiful old 110′ Burger Yacht pulled into the harbor for fuel.  Everyone came out to look.
We relaxed a little and got settled in.  We waited to see what the storm was going to do. Then we would take a walk over to the Marathon Marina and Boatyard where we had spent 5 days on a charter boat,at least 10 years ago, while we waited for the weather to improve.  In those 5 days, we had explored the city and surrounding areas of Marathon completely from top to bottom.  We wanted to see what had changed since we’d been here years ago. We took a walk before dinner to check things out.
Behind the Marathon Marina is a new restaurant, Frosty’s, that we had to check out.
The old restaurant was THE place to see the sunsets.  It still is the perfect setting for a great sunset.  We had a couple of drinks and some calamari, but there would not be a good sunset tonight.  The clouds had taken over. We left there and stopped to see the Castaway’s Restaurant that Marv had suggested.  It had a great menu, but we had planned to have pork chops on the grill tonight.  The Castaway’s would have to wait for another time. 
Marathon is a place where cruisers can reprovision.  Many boats use Marathon as a jumping off point on their way to the Bahamas and back to the mainland.  The last time we were in Marathon, we were also trying to get to Key West, but to no avail.  Weather was an issue.  It looks like we will not be visiting Key West on this trip either….again due to weather.  Too bad.  We really wanted to take our boat to Key West and spend a day or two there.  There is a huge storm cell coming up from Cuba in the next couple of days and if we don’t make it out of here in the next day or so,  we will be laid up here for 5 days or more until the storm passes.  We’d rather not do that again, so we’ll try and make it out of here tomorrow.  The storm clouds passed without raining a drop and we were able to walk back to the boat without getting wet.
We cooked dinner, watched a little TV, and went to bed early around 9:00.  We wanted to get a good night’s sleep and get an early start in the morning.  We’ll check the weather in the morning one more time before we make our decision to go or not to go. 

June 27, 2009 – Marathon to Boca Grande   Happy Birthday, MOM!

The alarm went off at 6 AM.  We had prepared our “ditch bag” the night before with all  our important papers and valuables that we have onboard.  Included in that bag are a flashlight, GPS, handheld radio, offshore life vests for us and a lifevest for Murphy.  We always use a “ditch bag” when we cross any large body of water.  We prepared a cooler of water for on the bridge, in case the ride was too rough to go below, and our usual charts, binoculars, camera, and books.  After checking our weather sites, taking Murphy for his walk,  and having breakfast we were ready to go.  We left the dock at 7:10
as it was getting light and crossed under the 7 Mile Bridge heading north.  It was warm and humid already.  Right out of the harbor the seas were lumpy with a SW wind.  As we turned north into the Gulf of Mexico, the seas turned calm.
The skies were partly cloudy as we went NE at our cruise speed of 23 knots (27 mph), even against the current.  An hour out, the waves increased to 1′ from the stern, so the ride continued to be pretty smooth.  We saw some stray crabpots every now and then.  Crabbing season is over, but these pots could have become lost in a storm.  We needed to keep a keen eye out for them so we wouldn’t hit any.  We heard on the radio that the Coast Guard was looking for a 21′ Wellcraft boat that was overdue from yesterday.  Every 15 minutes they would make an announcement, asking mariners to keep a lookout for it.  They were seriously looking for this boat.  Bob set a course for Cape Romano near Marco Island  and we continued on our way.  The waves increased from 1′ to 2-3′, but we were riding with them, so it wasn’t too bad. We saw a couple of other boats going in the opposite direction, so that made us feel like we weren’t the only ones out there.  The sky remained mostly sunny and since we were going with the speed of the wind, we didn’t feel much breeze.  It was warm and very humid.  We did crossword puzzles and some reading to pass the time.  Bob and I took turns reading aloud to each other since we were reading the same novel.  While one of us read, the other kept an eye out for crabpots.  That helped the time to pass more quickly.  At 11:00, we made landfall at Marco Island.  Land ho!  
We continued north past Naples and Ft. Myer’s Beach to Sanibel Bridge, crossing under it to San Carlos Bay and the ICW. 
Within the last hour on the Gulf, the wind had picked up and the 3′ waves were tossing us around a bit.  It was nice to get into some protected water on the ICW.  It took us 5 hours at cruise speed, all the way from Marathon in the Keys to Sanibel Bridge.  The water calmed off in the ICW and there was a lot of boat traffic on this Saturday.  We were able to travel at cruise speed all the way along the ICW to Boca Grande.  We would spend the night at Gasparilla Marina there.  We had made it back to Florida!  Our trip today took a total of almost 7 hours for a total of 173.9 miles.  We plan on being home tomorrow.  Once we got tied up, Murphy got a walk to stretch his legs.  We relaxed in the AC and watched the dark clouds move in.  They are predicting rain tonight.  We had a drink to celebrate our arrival and I baked some bread for our spaghetti dinner tonight.  Bob gave the boat a quick wash to get rid of all the saltwater and we settled in for a relaxing evening.  We would sleep well tonight!

June 28, 2009  Happy 14th Birthday, Murphy!

We slept as late as we could and had a leisurely breakfast.  Pulling out of the marina at 9:00, we planned to make the 9:15 Boca Grande Bridge opening. 
Then it would be smooth sailing (oh, I mean motoring) up the ICW towards home.  The ride up the ICW from Charlotte Harbor to Terra Ceia Bay is a familiar one to us now, but we still enjoy every minute of the boating experience.  It was a busy day on the ICW with lots of boat traffic.  We came across a guy on a jet ski who just would not get out of our way to let us pass. 
Bob blew the horn a number of times, but he just ignored us.  He stayed just 100 ft. in front of us, and wove back and forth in front of us.  We finally got rid of him in Venice.  Thank goodness!  What was he thinking?  Today we heard the Coast Guard make a radio call, giving a name, and asking for a specific person to contact them.  We have never heard the Coast Guard do that before.  I guess, it must have been an emergency and a way for someone to reach another person on a boat.  We’ll have to remember that for future reference.  It was a mostly sunny day with a nice breeze.  There were quite a few sailboats taking advantage of the good wind on Sarasota Bay.  It was still humid, but the high today should ONLY reach 88–a nice change from the 90 degree days we’ve been having every day for most of our trip.  We pulled into Terra Ceia Bay and arrived at our own dock at 2:00.  Our trip today took a little less than 5 hours and 66.9 miles.  We were greeted by our friends, Neal and Lynelle, who helped us with the lines.  It was great to put our feet on solid ground.  Home Sweet Home! 
Justavacation performed flawlessly this whole trip and the Gods looked favorably  upon us and kept us safe.  It was a memorable trip in so many ways and we feel very fortunate to have been able to experience it together.  On this, Murphy’s 14th birthday, I’m sure he’s glad to be home with his own little piece of grass.  He’s been so many places with us, and in my heart I know he’d rather be WITH us, no matter where we are.  Thanks to all of you who came along on this journey.  We hope you enjoyed sharing it with us.  Until next time…….

Some thoughts: Big boating is really a lot like camping…only on water.  You’re traveling from place to place, enjoying each new experience, giving up some of the luxuries of home to spend time outdoors.  With any boating (or camping) experience, there are some things you really learn to appreciate: 
  • Sleeping in your own bed,
  • Having AC whenever you want, not when electricity is available,
  • Taking long showers (brushing teeth and doing dishes) and not having to worry about how much water you’re using,
  • Using the toilet and not worrying about filling up the holding tank,
  • Not having to worry about weather, wind, anchors, and waves. 

Final Note: Trip Data

Total miles 1,299
Total days 35
Visited 9 islands
 Highest temperature 100 degrees (Ft. Lauderdale)
Lowest temperature 89 degrees (Bahamas)
5 locks
4 tanks of diesel fuel- $4,009
Highest price paid for fuel $3.08 (Marsh Harbor)
Lowest price paid for fuel  $2.32 (delivered to our dock)
Highest price paid per foot for dockage $2.50 (Marathon, Treasure Cay, Islamorada)
Lowest price paid per foot for dockage $.50 (Ft. Lauderdale)
Dinner out 3 times
Lunches out 4 times
Days without wearing sunscreen 0
Days without a rain shower 16
Time spent with friends: priceless