Saturday, May 18, 2013

The Key to the Keys

Dolphins joining us on the last leg of our journey from Key Biscayne to Marathon.

We made it safe and sound to Marathon.  I am not sure whether to report that the trip was better or worse than the trip from Fort Lauderdale to Miami, but it was an experience that we needed to put under our belt to better prepare us for future trips. 

Day 1:  Tossed but not thrown out

We started the three day trip out Biscayne Channel, through the stilt houses.  These houses are now managed by the state park, but at one time started as a single bait shop in the 30’s to grow into about 7 bustling fish camps over the flats.  The sun was shining and the waves nonexistent.  This was going to be a good trip.   

 Stiltville houses lining Biscayne Channel.

Looking north west from Stiltville, the Miami skyline can be seen in the distance.

We finally got out into Hawk Channel after two hours, to watch as the waves built.  However, unlike the first outside run, the winds and waves were coming from behind.  Both were coming in slightly off from her stern, making the passage manageable.  We knew that we had one or two possible anchorages ahead, one around 3 pm and the other around 8 pm; one on the north side of Penekamp Park and the other on the south side of Penekamp Park; neither was optimal.  The one on the north side of the park would require navigating up through a privately maintained channel requiring local knowledge, but provided both depth and protection.  The one on the south side of the park was exposed and a bit far for a days’ run, but was just off of Hawk Channel and easy to navigate.  This would be a test no matter what anchorage we chose.    

We ran the whole day just by wind speed, averaging 5 knots with just the jib, and slightly reefed at that.  We made it to our first potential anchorage at around 3 pm, and attempted to enter the channel to Caesar Creek.  The channel was well marked with red and green markers throughout the entrance, but the channel was about as wide as a toothpick.  The winds by this time had increased, pushing us into the shoaling side of the channel.  Even though reports on Active Captain mentioned that boats with our draft would not have any problem getting into Caesar Creek even at low tide, the winds were not going to allow us.  Once we measured 6 foot depths and Layla was bumping bottom, we backed out and we ‘high-tailed it out of dodge’.  We decided that it was better to find a place to anchor here rather than continue on to the unknown.  There were two ‘potential’ anchorages, one on each side of the channel, with depths around 10 feet.  We decided on the northern of the two, let down the anchor, and crossed our fingers that it would hold.  It did, and continued to do so for the next 18 hours. 

Sunset at anchor overlooking the south end of Elliott Key.  The waves may not look all that big, but with their period, it made for a rocky ride.

We spent the first two hours pissed at ourselves for getting ourselves into this situation, and the next two hours pissed at NOAA for not predicting these incredible winds.  We found out later that winds had gusted to over 35 mph that evening.  We discussed the possibility of ‘licking our wounds and heading back north at daylight, but the winds were against us; it would be a very sloppy ride north heading directly into the wind.  Once we got passed the blame game, we realized that we were safe.  We might not have been comfortable, but we had a great anchor to keep us put.  We were fortunate in that we were close enough to shore to have two good landmarks for assessing whether we were dragging anchor; we had the flashing red light at the entrance to the channel, and a radio tower on land.  Layla didn’t drift an inch all night.  With the wind on her bow and three foot seas, I found myself levitating with the wave period.  I finally fell asleep.  I don’t think Bud slept a wink all night.  We got up early the next morning, and decided to head south.

Day 2:  Bit but not eaten

The winds were still strong at the start of the day, but slowly subsided as we changed course.  We set up and reefed the jib early in the day, motor sailing the whole day.  As the day progressed, the angry seas settled down, and we found ourselves surrounded by beautiful turquoise and deep blue waters.  It was gorgeous.   

The beautiful turquoise and deep blue waters along Hawk Channel.

Tracy actually at the helm for a change.

We made it to our next anchorage at Indian Key by around 4 pm.  The anchorage at Indian Key was not ideal, as it was not well protected and embedded within crab pots, but the depths were just right around 11 feet.  We turned Layla’s bow into the wind and started to drop anchor.  I was at the wheel and Bud was at the windlass when the wind started pushing Layla backwards and the chain jumped off the windlass capston and started paying out.  Bud managed to lock the chain back into the capston and then I heard the most horrifying words, “Crap, I’ve lost my finger.”  I ran forward and Bud had his hand wrapped in his t-shirt.  I was afraid to look, but we slowly opened up the t-shirt to see the tip of his ring finger torn off and the bone protruding.  You can imagine the chaos as I went down below to find the various bandages and ointments in our first aid kit.  Once the bleeding subsided, an ‘angel’ appeared.  Bud hailed down the fishing boat and asked for a lift to the nearby road.  Within minutes, the boat was on Layla’s side and Bud was whisked off to get help.

Bud's ring finger after the stitches.  We call it his 'lucky finger'.

 The kindness of strangers 

We couldn’t post this entry without our sincerest gratitude to all those who selflessly helped in our time of need.  The two fishermen who whisked Bud off for help actually took him to the captains’ wife, who is a nurse, to assess whether Bud needed to go to the emergency room.  Bud recalls that he has never gone as fast on a boat as they did that afternoon; skimming the surface at ~50 mph on a motor catamaran.  They were the ones who called the EMS to deliver Bud to the emergency room.  And the nurse at the emergency room who took Bud to the boat ramp and find someone to bring Bud back to Layla.  You can only imagine our worries as Bud makes it off to shore, not knowing how to get him back to the boat.  I figured that I could manage to get the inflatable inflated and launched on my own, and I could imagine using the oars to row to shore and back again.  But with the winds, rowing may not be an option.  I could not imagine launching the outboard myself.  So we were stuck, unless someone could bring Bud back to Layla.  Again, we thank the nurse who went beyond her duties to find a way to get Bud back ‘home’.

Day 3:  The survival and arrival

We woke up the next morning to kinder conditions.  We picked up anchor and navigated through the crab pots.  The winds were still off our stern, and we motor sailed the remainder of the trip with the jib reefed.  Today was just as beautiful as yesterday; turquoise blue patches amid the deep blue waters.  A couple of dolphins joined us for a bit to catch our waves, and then headed off for more fun adventures.   

 Dolphins joining us for a ride on the last leg of the journey.

We made it to just outside our destination only to find that we needed to wait for a higher tide to enter the mooring field.  We dropped anchor on the outside, but still protected from the winds, and launched Zoe to check out the mooring field.  It was a good thing to use Zoe as our scout, as there were several shoaling areas around which to navigate.  

Sunset at anchor on the outside of the harbor overlooking the 7 mile bridge.

The next morning at high tide, we successfully navigated the channel and found our mooring home at ‘U8’.  Safe and sound at last.

Navigating the final mile into the harbor.

The view from Layla's new home on mooring ball U8 overlooking Boot Key.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Our First Outside Run

Bud and I exploring the grassy flats just south of Key Biscayne.

For those of you waiting anxiously to hear about our first outside run, we did survive.  We apologize for the delay, but some memories needed to sink in before relaying.  The trip from Fort Lauderdale to Miami turned out not to be the easiest or prettiest 25 miles, but we made it still the same.  Before deciding on when to head south, as all good sailors do, we carefully followed the weather predictions.  The front that just had passed left the skies sunny, and we decided that 10 to 15 mph winds would not be a problem for Layla.  What we failed to appreciate was that Layla is capable of handling a whole lot more abuse than the two of us combined.  The day that we left Fort Lauderdale, the winds were from the east, and had been from the northeast for the previous couple of days.  These winds had enough time to build up waves near shore, and the waves were pushing directly onshore.  Naively we headed out the inlet, which itself was rough starting at the turning basin due to all the big yacht wakes.  Despite having to hang on with clenched grips as Layla plowed through the wakes, I was invigorated.  The water was a beautiful turquoise, and we both figured that the seas would calm down as soon as we got out of the channel.  We got out to +165 foot depths, watching the water turn from turquoise to deep crystal blue, and turned south.  With the winds now directly on our side, Layla was rocking and rolling side to side.  Bud braced himself at the wheel, and we continued.  An hour into the trip, conditions hadn’t changed a bit.  Neither of us wanted to even suggest heading back, as that would still mean an awful ride back through the inlet and not making any headway south.  So we were committed for the next four hours.  On one of the rocks and rolls, we heard banging noises from down below.  I decided to go down and assess the damages, and found that although a couple of things had fallen to the floor, no harm was done.  I made us a couple of sandwiches, grasping for the peanut butter and the cutting board as they slid from one side of the galley to the other.  I came back up triumphant, but white as a ghost.  No lunch for me today.  The rocking and rolling continued all the way to the Miami inlet, healing over so much as to take in water through the gunwales.  When we finally got to the inlet and started heading in, the rocking and rolling turned into following seas, surfing Layla all the way into the harbor.  Surfing may sound like fun, but on a sailboat with too much speed, pitching can bury the bow.  Bud slowed down Layla to make for a more comfortable ride, and we made it into Miami Harbor well before dark.

Bud holding Layla on a steady course from Fort Lauderdale to Miami.

Sunset at our first anchorage along the Venetian Causeway.

North Miami lights at night.

We spent the first week anchored along the Venetian Causeway, exploring Miami Beach, and the second week anchored just outside the Bill Baggs State Park on Key Biscayne, exploring all that nature had to show us.  We had beautiful sunsets most evenings, some incredible storms passing through, and some wonderful adventures as well.   

Miami Beach

Miami, as we found, almost felt like a foreign country, with an interesting mix of latino culture and language.  I loved it.  We got a taste of the Cuban culture in Miami Beach, munching on a Cuban sandwich at the local deli on our first day.  On the day that we decided to do laundry, the skies opened up, flooding the streets of Miami Beach.  We took cover at a little restaurant serving latino faire, and had the best food since starting this trip; starting with some horchota and arepas, and ending with chicken mofongo with this creamy cilantro sauce.  Below are some of our favorite shots of our time in Miami Beach.

South Miami Beach.

One of the many large homes in Miami Beach.

Of course we couldn't have claimed to have been to Miami Beach without finding a local hardware store.  This hardware store definitely was a treat.  The shelves were packed from floor to ceiling with every possible item that a hardware store could have.  And unlike some hardware stores, had at least ten different varieties of each item.  We found our 16 foot dinghy cable and lock here.

 The day the skies opened in Miami Beach.

  Bud and I enjoying chicken mofongo with home made black beans waiting for the rain to end.

The flooded streets didn't stop any of the Miami Beachers from driving around town.

Bailing out about 15 gallons of water from Zoe after
the storm passed.

Double rainbow over Miami Beach after the storm.

Key Biscayne

Key Biscayne brought us close to nature, and gave us a very different view of the Miami area.  While enjoying a drink in the cockpit at happy hour, we watched as Eagle rays jumped up through balls of schooling fish from the cockpit.  And on one particular calm evening at low tide, Bud and I explored the grassy flats off of the state park with our dinghy, Zoe, finding sea biscuits and sea urchins (yes, Lytechinus) and sea stars and conch living right below our boat.  Below are some of our favorite shots of the week off of the state park.

Layla in her new home off of Bill Baggs State Park.

The lighthouse at Bill Baggs State Park.

Iguanas in the mangroves in the park.

Flamingos flying past our anchorage off of Fisher Island.

Happy hour at our anchorage off of Key Biscayne.

Exploring the grassy flats at low tide near our anchorage off of Key Biscayne.

A living conch.

A live sea biscuit.  The first one I have ever seen in the wild.

Investigating a live sea star.

The waters were so clear, you could see the invertebrates from afar.

A double rainbow after a storm passed our anchorage off of Key Biscayne.

 Sunset at anchorage off of Key Biscayne.

Watching weather pass through Miami.....

Watching weather pass through Miami.....

Watching weather pass through Miami.....

And then the skies opened.....

We very much enjoyed the culture, the food, and the nature we found here in Miami, and really didn’t want to leave.  However, the Keys have their own appeal, and our plan is to head to Marathon when the weather permits.  With our six and a half foot draft, we won’t be able to take the intracoastal, but rather will take Hawk Channel, which runs between the Keys and the near shore coral reef.  We actually are happy to not follow the ICW, as we are looking forward to doing some more sailing on Layla, hoping for a more kind passage next time.  We will fill you in on our transit when we arrive in Marathon.