I was so zapped from the sun and the previous days travels I forgot to check the weather when we arrived. I got up early to take Onyx out for a walk and saw the dark thunder head in our anticipated direction of travel. It was noticeably windy and cooler than the day before. Oh, no! Not another day in Marco, I thought!
I dialed up wind finder and it said the seas were no more than 2 feet in the gulf and around the back side of the Keys in Florida Bay. I looked at the doppler and it showed a system coming through to our south around the Everglades. It was moving at 7 knots and it was producing heavy rains. Ugh.
I checked back in after a couple of hours to see if it had moved through and it had not. I checked back in an hour and I could see two, well-developed systems. One was on land and the other was about to hit it. I figured that they come in threes so I guessed that I might have to live with some rain. Cruising is a cautious task and we all make educated guesses on our safety as we pass. I felt that I may experience some rain and wind but all of the NOAA buoy markers indicated waves no higher than 2 feet, even in presence of the storm. We were anxious to get to our destination and we voted to head out. The dog and kids didn’t get a vote but me and my lovely, tired wife agreed. I prayed I wasn’t making a mistake. I did pray, as I do most days that God would keep us and lead us safely through to our next place of rest.
We set off thought the long no wake zone and complicated channels to the gulf and the waves were rolling and constant. The winds had lessened to about 5 knots. We made an off shore passage about 3 miles out for most of the trip and it was a little rolly for an hour. Something on the bow of my boat was making a smacking noise in the pounding of each wave and I saw one of the metal fender holders break loose. I stopped the boat and secured it before setting off again. The kids and Aubrey were up top. It wasn’t that comfortable but we have a small boat that lends itself to a lot of movement if there are waves. No Dramamine for the crew, just yet but it was getting close. This was day 29 for us in our passage.
I saw two distinct thunderheads up ahead by about 4 miles that were dumping rain. Ugh. I plotted a course 3 miles off and had to plot carefully around some dangerously shallow shoals. I try to plot long lines of travel and cut corners if it is feasible, given the conditions. We were slowly arching towards the East. We got past the thunderheads unscathed by rain or foul waves. I was happy. I saw two more dark cloud systems up ahead.
The kids were below destroying the boat and fighting with each other as normal and Aubrey lent me emotional support up above as we cruised at a nice pace of 25 knots. She could tell I was stressed. It is hard to be a captain of your ship and a lot of worrying is involved each day, mostly of things that are not to pass.
We adjusted out course for the next heading and we were in about 8 feet of water, which was the best that I could get 4 miles off shore, believe it or not. Wouldn’t you know it, the new heading shot us in a direction that was barely bright with blue between ominous black clouds spewing rain over the land and sea. Please God, keep us safe. He did and we set out last long heading East towards the Keys with little trouble with weather.
Florida Bay is gorgeous and it has the most interesting light green water. The sand underneath is white so it amplifies the green color. Crab pots are everywhere! I read about this but I never believed it could be as bad as people stated. Commercial fishermen string long lines of traps that are tied with heavy rope to traps weighing about 100 pounds on the bottom of the ocean. They are marked by blue, yellow, green, red and another color of floatation that are about the size of a kid’s basketball. It was like a giant they a handful of pebbles onto a concrete pad to create the most intricate and difficult maze. I knew what my course should be but it was impossible to keep any kind of heading because of all of those damned crab traps. I zigged and I zagged, white knuckling the steering wheel the whole way. There were about 50 miles of this kind of passage and it got so bad that Aubrey took to the bow to direct me with her thumbs.
She would signal port or starboard if she didn’t think i already saw an impending collision with a pot (and it’s thick rope). I watched and there were a few times the floats were so concealed that I had to jerk it one way or the other to avoid a propeller strike. Aubrey devised a simple system for me so I could understand. She would hold up her thumb one way or the other leisurely in most cases but if I was about to really screw up she would do it more forcefully so I knew to dodge quickly. It worked well and we made it through.
I forgot to mention that I lost my depth finder early in the day after I heard a loud knock under the boat. It was the first time I stuck a floating stick or log and man, I’ve dodged some really big ones in our travels. I guess it took it out as it sticks out from the stern about 3 inches. I saw it when the boat was out of the water and I thought that it seemed to be so small and fragile. I felt happy that it lasted as long as it did but with all of the shallow shoals and the fact that most of this day’s course was in 8 feet of water, it was probably better that I didn’t have it for my nerves. Our boat weighs 12,500 empty and I bet we have another two tons of crap aboard, plus our own weight of 1/2 ton. I wish Onyx would lose some weight.
Anyway, no depth finder. We can see the Keys ahead and we got so excited. Aubrey wanted to crack a beer and relax on the bow but I knew we still had a way to go before we were in safe. We cut a course to the North and headed into the lee side ICW passage thought the Keys. It is supposed to be 8-10 feet and there is a well charted course line that made sense to me. The clouds opened up and the rain dumped on me like it was being spilled from a garbage can up above. I dropped the anchor and went below for it to pass because I couldn’t see a thing. The winds howled but the anchor held. Squalls pass quickly in Florida and it was over in about 15 minutes. I was cold down below because I was soaked. I just want to get there! I went above to pull anchor and continue on.
Another squall hit us and Aubrey got me my trusty rain coat. I set the best course I could and slowed my speed. I wore sunglasses because the rain hurt my eyes. I veered off course several times because of all of the distractions but I kept to it, generally. The marina we were traveling to was closing in 45 minutes and this leg of the trip was taking longer than anticipated so I continued on through several other spots of rain. I didn’t have to go below again. The water got shockingly clear and I thought I was going to run aground. It turns out I was in 10 feet of water that just looked like it was only 2 feet.
The kids and Aubrey came up and marveled at the gorgeous Keys and the clear water. It was not blue but clear. We made it into where we changed course to head for the marina and the ocean floor turned to brown. We made it into our chosen marina on time and I booked a slip in the mangroves.
The Mangrove Marina is a dump. I say that with as much love in my heart as I can muster. I planned to stay here for a few months and had some recommendations from friends. I could tell that Aubrey and the kids were disappointed because it was under construction and all concrete. No amenities, save the laundry and bathrooms. It was populated by many live aboard people who were mainly single 50-70 year old salty men who were scattered about the dock drinking beer and reminiscing.
Aubrey turned to me and asked me this: “First impressions?”
I knew I was in for it but I had no other options and I was tired, wind beaten, hot and hungry. I told her I knew it sucked but asked for her to defer her complaints until such time as we could fill our stomachs and regroup. I forgot to mention that I got a good discount to stay at this marina and I told her what a great deal it was going to be, previously.
We sat back and took a look at the sunset from our bow as a storm rolled in the distance and snapped a couple of pictures. I felt so proud of us in our journey, making it 1250 miles safely. This was truly a remarkable passage and we had accomplished a great deal for ourselves. I know that many other people make long passages with fewer resources but we had no open water experience and we picked up a lot while we were underway. We came together as a family and Aubrey is a damn good first mate who handles so many important tasks and helps us keep our boat intact and all together. I felt happy and accomplished as a captain. Our kids and dog did great overall and they were happy to get to the Keys. Tavernier Key Florida wasn’t what I expected but that happens when you’ve never been to a place and you set your course without visiting. I knew great things were ahead for us and that God always leads us to where we need to be.